More on Race and Obesity

In the realm of obesity villains, two of the rock stars are irregular sleep and skipping breakfast. This is confirmed by a study from University College London, which suggested that the overeating theory of obesity is an oversimplification. From studying almost 20,000 families, the researchers learned that environment has quite a lot to do with it, and a very important environmental factor is routine.

Meals need to be regular, including breakfast, and sleep needs to be regimented and adequate. And then there’s this:

Particularly among Black children, lifestyle factors and the environment in which the child lives play significant roles in their becoming overweight or obese.

A 2017 study set out to investigate the phenomenon known as LGA infants, which means Large (for) Gestational Age and whether such children, if African American, tend toward obesity. It encompassed 195 mother-child pairs, with the children being between two and five years old. LGA newborns turned out “2.5 times more likely to be obese in childhood than average size newborn infants.” The difference is considerable.

We have mentioned the Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration, or CORD, which exists in selected locations in Texas, California, and Massachusetts. The mission is to prevent and treat childhood obesity by integrating primary care and community-based strategies.

The staff of the Massachusetts branch wanted to know something about the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, aka WIC, namely its effectiveness in terms of racial/ethnic and language differences. The report says,

Using WIC data from 2010 to 2015, we examined intervention effect on child weight and behavior outcomes by child race/ethnicity and parental primary language… White children demonstrated decreased BMI in both the intervention and control groups. However, intervention minority children demonstrated greater improvements in BMI than did control minority children.

The African American Wellness Project website says,

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.

The organization points out that while government programs build a solid foundation for broader obesity-reduction efforts, they rarely specifically address the racial and ethnic disparities that factor into childhood obesity. Among these are the fact that the diabetes risk is higher for African American youths, who also happen to be targeted more aggressively by food advertising than their white counterparts.

The built environment comes in for a good share of the blame, or rather social and economic inequities that force an inordinate number of people of color into substandard neighborhoods and housing situations. This shows up in many ways. If four kids are sharing a bedroom, for instance, the likelihood that any of them will experience proper sleep is reduced. Lower-income neighborhoods tend to provide fewer outdoor recreational opportunities, while existing playgrounds and parks tend to be less safe. Another aspect is the “food desert” problem, which we will talk about next.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study Links Black Child Obesity to Irregular Sleep, Skipping Breakfast,”, 11/24/16
Source: “Being too large for gestational age precedes childhood obesity in African Americans,”, 06/21/17
Source: “Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Effectiveness of a Multisector Childhood Obesity Prevention Intervention,”, 08/08/18
Source: “Obesity in African American Children,”, 09/25/18
Photo credit: Visualhunt

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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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