Risk of obesity 'doubles' for children in low-income homes
CHILDREN growing up in low- income homes are twice as likely to become obese as those in better-off families, a new study has found.
The study of Irish childhood obesity discovered that socio-economic levels impacted significantly on a child's chances of becoming obese, with parents' social class, education and whether they drink or smoke all having a major impact.
It also reveals that children who are obese have an 82pc chance of remaining so into adulthood, compared with just 15pc of children with a normal weight in childhood.
Previous studies have highlighted poor diets among children as a major cause of childhood obesity.
An ongoing Safefood campaign is urging Irish parents to make changes to their children's diet and control portion sizes.
Brendan Walsh, of NUI Galway and co-author of the study with Dr John Cullinan, explained how the study also set up a concentration inequality index to look at whether the differences could be explained simply by socio-economic factors.
It looked at four separate variables.
* Socio-economic level variables, including social class and parental education.
* Parental-level variables such as age, body mass index (BMI), smoking and alcohol use, and whether mothers breastfed.
* Household levels, including rural or urban living, owning or renting the family home and quick access to grocery and recreational facilities.
* Childhood-level variables such as gender, pocket money, televisions in bedrooms and TV usage, diet and physical exercise.
It found that the socio-economic factors and parents' lifestyle choices played the biggest role in determining childhood obesity rates among different income groups.
"Things like socio-economic group, education of parent, parental BMI, smoking and alcohol status altogether explain about 75pc of the inequality in childhood obesity," Mr Walsh explained.
He added that while childhood obesity itself was a problem, the real impact was only seen when these children became adults.
"For a child of recommended weight, about 15pc of those will become obese. For a child who is seen as overweight or obese, 65pc of those will become obese and for an obese child, about 82pc of those may become obese. So it's a huge leap from 15pc to 82pc," he added.
The study by researchers at NUI Galway used data from the Growing up in Ireland programme to examine childhood obesity.
That programme is following the progress of 20,000 children across Ireland over seven years to collect a host of information to help improve our understanding of all aspects of children and their development.
The Galway researchers looked at a range of data for the childhood obesity study. These included income, socio-economic groupings, mothers' education and mothers' BMI.
It found that children in poorer households were 2.5 times more likely to be obese than those in well off households, while those in the lowest socio-economic group are 4.1 times more likely to be obese compared to those in the top group.
A mother's BMI also led to significant differences among children.
If a child's mother was obese, the child was 5.5 times more likely to be obese, compared to children with mothers of recommended weight.
Mr Walsh added that while there has been a slight reduction or levelling off of obesity rates in children across Europe, this has mainly occurred within the highest socio-economic groups.
"The importance of socio-economic inequalities may actually be increasing in this context," he added.
The study will shortly be published in the 'Economics & Human Biology' journal.