Continuing History of Obesity and Race in America

In 2015, the overall percentage of overweight/obese Americans between ages two and 19 was 32 percent. At the same time, the number in the Hispanic community was 39 percent. Dr. Eduardo Sanchez wrote for The Huffington Post that, compared to their white, non-Hispanic age-mates, the kids drank more sugar-sweetened beverages and lacked access to fresh produce and other healthful foods because of the “food desert” effect.

Also, predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods are short on parks and playgrounds. Perhaps related was the fact that the children were exposed to 13 hours of media on an average day, compared to around eight hours in the case of white non-Hispanic kids. This media consumption level has two major implications regarding obesity: the kids are sedentary rather than active, and they see a lot of junk food advertisements.

Narrowing down the statistics to the preschool population, researchers found that Hispanic children were four times more likely to be obese, compared to the white kids. In the same year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation committed $500 million to a five-year effort focusing on minority Americans. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Cornell William Brooks was gratified but cautions, and opined,

To save a generation, it may take a generation.

Previously, we mentioned one of the big risks of early puberty: teen pregnancy. A study found that among standard weight adolescents, 78 percent consistently used contraception, but among obese adolescents, the rate was only 68 percent. CBS News reported,

The group of obese teens had some other distinct characteristics. More than half of them had grown up in homes using public assistance and 48 percent were from minority racial groups, versus 36 percent of the standard weight teens. Researchers say that those social and economic differences, which often pair with less health education, could also account for some of their riskier behavior.

Around the same time, a report was released on a study involving 31,000 adults. It said that Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians are more likely than whites to be overweight in childhood, and more likely to be above average weight by age 18. Journalist Tamiya King wrote,

For those in between the ages of 18 and 30, the people most likely to be overweight or obese were Black females, along with American Indian males and females and Hispanic males. he research also revealed that Black females were more likely to gain weight the fastest. A little more than 10 percent of Black females who were overweight at the age of 18 became obese just one year later.

To explain the results, lead author Christy Avery cited “complex relationships between physiology, culture, socioeconomic status, genetics and the environment.” In economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, fast food outlets were named as a major contributory factor to the obesogenic environment.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study Shows the Best Ways to Reduce Childhood Obesity,”, 02/04/15
Source: “Foundations Take Broad Approach to Reducing Racial Inequalities,”, 05/07/15
Source: “Obese teens less likely to use birth control,”, July 2015
Source: “Childhood Obesity: Why Children of Color Are Gaining More Weight,”, 08/18/15
Image by Salud America

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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