Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families

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4 March 2016

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There are multiple reasons why low income families have children on the verge of obesity. Children with two working parents or with a single parent have limited access to healthy home cooked meals. Parent’s working odd hours in low paying jobs and unable to find the time to cook home cooked meals means children in those low income families are either eating prepackaged meals or eating take out far too often which is unhealthy. The affordability and the accessibility of nutritional foods from grocery stores and unhealthy inexpensive foods from fast food restaurants is just a few examples of why child obesity in low income families is on a rise. Childhood obesity can lead to lifelong eating and health problems. There is also a problem with the lack of physical actives in low income neighborhoods as children often don’t have places to exercise. The epidemic that is childhood obesity in America but especially in low income neighborhoods are a fact that cannot be ignored and must be addressed before these children are effected form lifelong implications. Obesity in children is defined as a Body Mass Index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex according to a chart put out by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (2011) calculates Body Mass Index using a child’s weight, height, and age. This is different than calculating a Body Mass Index for adults as age does not matter for adults, only the height and weight. There are many reasons and combinations of reasons why children become obese. Genetics can play a role but childhood obesity is generally caused by a lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns resulting in excess energy intake, or a combination of the two. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Resource). Much of childhood obesity can be prevented and those who already suffer from obesity can make changes to lose weight and be healthy. It is important for at risk children and their parents to understand the severity of the topic of childhood obesity. There are great health risks for those children suffering from obesity. Let’s Move is a government program launched by the first lady, Michelle Obama, as a part of the task force for childhood obesity President Obama had created as talked about on the Let’s Move website.

On their site there is a list of health issues associated with childhood obesity. Research shows children who are obese can develop heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, plus joint problems and back pain from the strain on the body carrying extra weight. There is also mental health to consider for obese children. Depression and social issues are often found in children suffering from obesity (Let’s Move). With rising health care costs, the health issues that children can develop due to childhood obesity can hurt the financial position of the already low income and financially hurting families in America. With the invention of video games, computers, the internet, and television viewing on a rise, it’s no wonder why, President Obama stated on the White House website “Nearly one third of children in America are overweight or obese — a rate that has tripled in adolescents and more than doubled in younger children since 1980.” This is why childhood obesity is a serious issue that needs to be considered by parents, doctors and teachers. With children being left at home alone after school due to parents having to work multiple low paying jobs in low income neighborhoods, children are not told what not to eat and are not getting exercise. The internet being such an intergraded part of today’s life children are often spending much of their free time on the computer rather than playing outside with friends. The lack of exercise is a huge reason why children now are more obese than in previous generations.

From data found in Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds by Henry J. Kaiser Foundation (January 2010) It is said that children are spending approximately 7.5 hours using entertainment media, 4.5 hours watching TV, 1.5 hours on the computer, and over an hour playing video games daily. This is partly because older children are often home alone after school while their parents are working. The fact that many children are either left alone while parents work or are left in childcare makes it difficult for parents to regulate what a child is eating. “Sixty-nine percent of children under age 5 with low-income working mothers are cared for regularly by someone other a parent. Thirty-nine percent of these children are in care for at least 35 hours a week.” (The Urban Institute ). This means that children are not being monitored by parents about what they eat and how much they ate during the day. The number of obese children in low income families in America is on a rise, 1 of 7 low-income, preschool-aged children is obese according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). According to the Clinton Foundation “nearly 25 million children are overweight or obese.” Also they report that in a study of 200 neighborhoods, there were three times as many supermarkets in wealthy neighborhoods as in poor neighborhoods leaving fast food restaurants as the most convenient meal options for low income families.

Children from low income families are far more likely to suffer from childhood obesity due to the lack of supermarkets available, due to the affordability of nutritious foods, due to the lack of government funding for assistance programs, along with many other factors. Many organizations have done research on the subject of childhood obesity in low income families. Some sources have found connections between things like the number of grocery stores in comparison to convenient stores and fast food places in low income neighborhoods. For example the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2011) say that according to their research “Supermarket access is associated with a reduced risk for obesity.” Convenient store won’t offer variety and healthy fresh foods to those families that live in low income neighborhoods. It is easy to see how there can be a link between childhood obesity and the limited access to grocery stores. Fresh fruits and vegetables are crucial part of eating healthy and losing weight. When low income families are unable to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables due to not having stores that would supply them, there is a risk of obesity due to the lack of options. “Those with annual household income less than $24,000 reported problems accessing affordable fresh fruits and vegetables 2.5 times as frequently than those with incomes between $60,000 and $89,999 (13.8 percent vs. 5.7 percent)” (Food Research and Action Center, 2010).

The Journal of the American Medical Association says “Among older non-Hispanic white children, children in families with low income were significantly more likely to be overweight than children in families with high income.” as a result to one of their many studies on childhood obesity. Though obesity rates are often talked about in the news both on TV or online, not much is offered to assist the prevention of obesity or how to effectively live healthier to and lose weight in a healthy way. There are solutions out there and many ways to get the information needed to prevent obesity. Many organizations created to get the information to the public by the internet but it is important for this information to be available to all as not everyone has the ability get the internet. This leaves people most at risk, low income families, without the information on how to live healthier lives.

Educating parents on how to feed their families healthy food are one way to prevent childhood obesity and change the eating habits of children already suffering from obesity. Also, making sure children stay active, burning calories by playing sports or riding bicycles, or general exercise routines can lower a child’s risk of obesity. Low income families may not be able to afford to enroll their children in sports. The general public needs to get involved by donating money and volunteering time for after school programs that offer children an alternative from sitting at home in front of the television eating junk food. More free after school programs in poverty stricken areas in the United States would lower the number of obese children in this country. If the general public only knew how little of their time and money is need to fund and support these after school actives that make such a huge impact on children and how it would fight a health condition like childhood obesity more people would donate and volunteer.

The biggest problem in ending childhood obesity is to get more information to families on how to live healthier and eat healthier. Organizations that already deal with low income families need to offer more information such an idea of what kind of physical activities are needed to be healthy and how often to do them. Also, sample menus with easy, low cost recipes so low income families now how to save money and while still eating right However, this assistance should not stop at helping low income families as childhood obesity is not only an issue for low income families. There needs to be organizations that get involved in schools systems to give all different level of income families the information needed to live healthy and feed their family good choices. The United States Department of Agriculture has created a site called Choose My Plate (2011) which provides sample menus, nutritional facts, ways to manage your weight including different trackers to track weight loss progress, and a whole section of physical activities. There is an abundance of information that parents can use to map out meals, plan activities, and help their children lose weight to prevent obesity and help those children already suffering from obesity. As the site states to parents “You are your children’s most important role model.

Your children pay attention to what you do more than what you say.” Parents are the most critical factor in childhood obesity. It is up to the parents to create healthy food for their children. Parents who don’t eat healthy themselves are setting bad examples to their children. Much of childhood obesity can end if parents change the way their whole family eats. For low income families that may not be able to always buy healthy foods, there needs to be government assistance to help those who are in need. Both federal and local governments need to implement more programs to low income families. “Only 5 percent of all low-income families with a full-time, full-year worker receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.” (The Urban Institute). That needs to change as the cost of food has gone up which means those families that are low income but are trying to do better are those that are suffering the most. More of the government’s money must be put into programs that help feed low income families to prevent such health problems as childhood obesity. President Obama has created a task force on childhood obesity with the First Lady heading a public awareness program outlined on the White House’s website.

On the White House’s website the President says “Such strategies include updating child nutrition policies in a way that addresses the best available scientific information, ensuring access to healthy, affordable food in schools and communities, as well as increasing physical activity and empowering parents and caregivers with the information and tools they need to make good choices for themselves and their families.” President Obama’s says on the website that his plan is “… to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight”. With the cooperation with local government the President’s plan could possibly be successful. There is also another way for the government to step in to end obesity. Some states have already developed laws where there are higher taxes on unhealthy foods. “Forty states already have small taxes on sugared beverages and snack foods, but in the past year, Maine and New York have proposed large taxes on sugared beverages, and similar discussions have begun in other states.” (Brownell, Frieden, 2009).

This would be a good solution for those in higher income levels and if government assistance is helping the lower income levels it prevents them falling into old habits of buying the unhealthy foods. With the combination of assistance for low income families and higher taxes on the unhealthy foods, the rate of childhood obesity might drop. With the findings through these government sites and organizations, the result is clear that children from low income families tend to suffer from childhood obesity more than those children from a high income house hold. This research proves the link between income level and obesity in children. Many families are unable to have home cooked meals either because of time limitations or the affordability and access to healthy food. Many families will eat off the dollar menu at McDonalds as it is cheaper than buying food at the grocery store.

Fast food places offer meals with toys to attract children as well. Children in low income neighborhoods often don’t have access to healthy foods like fresh produce. There are also few places for recreation for children in low income neighborhoods. Those children can miss out on physical activities that would burn calories preventing obesity. People should be more aware of this issue that Americans, especially the children face. This means addressing the issue of cost of fast food, especially the more unhealthy choices at fast food restaurants, and the grams of fat in these foods. The facts show that children from low income families have fewer choices for healthy food due to the high cost of fresh food in comparison to the affordability of fast food which contributes to child obesity.

American Medical Association. (2001,October). Low Family Income and Food Insufficiency in Relation to Overweight in US Children. The Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved from Brownell K.D., Frieden T.R.(2009). Ounces of prevention—the public policy case for taxes on sugared beverages. New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, April). A Growing Problem. Overweight and Obesity. Retrived from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, April). Basics About Childhood Obesity.
Overweight and Obesity. Retrived from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, April). Data and Statistics: Obesity rates among all children in the United States. Overweight and Obesity. Retrived from Food Research and Action Center. (2010) Food Access & Affordability. Retrived from Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2005, March 9). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds – Report. Retrieved from Lets Move! (n.d.). Health Problems and Childhood Obesity. America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. Retrieved from The Urban Institute. (2005, August). Low Income Working Families: Facts and Figures. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate. (2011). Dietary Guidelines Consumer Brochure. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources/Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. (n.d.).Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from William J. Clinton Foundation. (n.d.). Facts About Childhood Obesity. Fighting Childhood Obesity: Alliance For A Healthier Generation. Retrived from White House. (2010, February 09) Presidential Memorandum — Establishing a Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from.

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Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families. (4 March 2016). Retrieved from

"Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families" StudyScroll, 4 March 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5 December, 2023]

"Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families" StudyScroll, Mar 4, 2016. Accessed Dec 5, 2023.

"Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families" StudyScroll, Mar 4, 2016.

"Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families" StudyScroll, 4-Mar-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 5-Dec-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Childhood Obesity: A Problem in Low Income Families. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5-Dec-2023]

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