Data mining has uncovered a disturbing trend: Latino children become fat much earlier than black or white playmates. A full 20% of boys are overweight by age four.
What’s going on here? These kids aren’t shopping, cooking or deciding their menus.
Using national data sets culled from 40,000 children over 12 years, researchers teased the differences from race, sex, and insurance status variables.
Gilbert C. Liu and colleagues reported their findings as The obesity epidemic in children: Latino children are disproportionately affected at younger ages in International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in March 2015.
In contrast, white and black children reached that high percentage closer to 7 and 9 years of age.
“Moreover, significant proportions of Latino children become overweight before entering grade school, suggesting that grade-school-based obesity prevention is too late for this high-risk population. Our study contributes to a growing body of evidence that indicates an increased risk of overweight in Latino preschoolers, and our study is distinguished by its large body of longitudinal data.”
Other studies point to this disparity: (See references here.)
NHANES: overweight prevalence in Mexican American children estimated to be between 13.1% compared to 8.6% for black and 8.8% for white
WIC: overweight prevalence in more than 2 million preschoolers: Hispanic is 17.9% compared to 11.7%, for black and 11.4%, for white.
Fragile Families and Child Well-being: of 2452 children, ages 3 years, nearly 26% of Hispanics were overweight compared to16.2% blacks, 14.8% for whites.
This data suggests, strongly, that school programs to combat obesity may come too late.
Tackling the problem starts with one big question: why so many Hispanics? Early research suggests possible answers:
- Thrifty genes soak up calories when plentiful
- Cooking practices
- Exercise habits
- Body image
The authors conclude:
“Further studies should focus on the emergence of further metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors and on developing targeted prevention and intervention strategies in young children, their families, and the communities in which they live.”