Some Very Noticeable Obesity Trends

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at how economic deprivation and social inequality are prone to coincide with obesity, how race is related to poverty, and also how in the United States, obesity is much more widespread among people of color. It’s all about socio-economic status, or SES, according to this summary of a recent article by Robert Sapolsky, which…

[…] suggests that relative poverty generates stress, and stress generates overactivity of the hormonal and neural responses to stress which include secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone. Lower SES is associated with greater levels of stress… We know that higher cortisol is a risk factor for depression. Lower SES children and adults have higher cortisol levels than richer ones.

This is what the experts say about groups that largely coincide with different SES categories:

The prevalence of childhood obesity has risen among all racial and ethnic subgroups over the years, but the growth has been more pronounced for communities of color. Childhood obesity rates of African Americans and Hispanics increased by about 120 percent between 1986 and 1998, but among non-Hispanic whites it grew by 50 percent.

Economic inequality often aligns with racial inequality. Studies have found a direct link to impaired mental health, and many eating disorders come under the heading of mental health.

Feelings of isolation, alienation, inferiority, and social defeat result from poverty, and poverty in many cases results from being the wrong color or speaking the wrong language. A journalist reporting on a grant to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute felt moved to describe its purpose as finding innovative means of dealing with “the seemingly impossible problem of Hispanic childhood obesity.” Those are strong words!

Pediatricians keep a close eye on a child’s rate of weight gain in the first year, because that will be a pretty good indicator of how the rest of her or his life goes. We know that infants face obesity risk factors, but little is known about which factors affect whom, or even what all of the factors are. Recent research says they might be different for Hispanic babies versus non-Hispanic white ones.

Even when only a year old, babies of Hispanic ancestry have “strikingly higher” obesity rates. The press release from Pediatric Research says:

Interestingly, higher father BMI and higher maternal weight gain during pregnancy was associated with excess weight in non-Hispanic white children but not in Hispanic children. On the other hand, lower maternal education was associated with excess weight in the Hispanic children.

Although various social and cultural factors were found to have varying influence on the families in the different ethnic groups, in combination these did not fully explain the marked differences in weight gain between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white children.

As of last year, among kids age two to 19 years, the overweight/obese rate among Hispanics was 38.2 percent, or well over one-third. If the public learned that one out of three children in any community had polio, attention would be paid. Some might protest, “Oh, but there is a big difference, because polio is contagious.”

To which others might reply, “Obesity is contagious, too. That’s why corporations find it worthwhile to spend multi-millions, advertising their crap to Hispanic kids, hoping they will catch obesity. Imagine anyone spending millions to promote smallpox. It’s insane, right?”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Scandal of Inequality and Its Effect on Mental Health,”, 11/17/18
Source: “Could ‘Genetic Editing’ Tackle the Problem of Hispanic Childhood Obesity?,”, 11/27/18
Source: “Obesity in African American Children,”, 09/25/18
Source: “Risk factors for obesity may differ for Hispanic and non-Hispanic white babies,”, 01/10/19
Photo credit: Elvert Barnes on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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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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