WASHINGTON – Nearly one in five U.S. children and teens are obese, and statistics show a higher incidence of obesity in some races, such as Hispanics and Blacks. Now the results of a study presented at ENDO 2021, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, show that Spanish as the main family language is a predictor of childhood obesity, regardless of racial background.
The prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents from Spanish-speaking homes was 24.4 percent, about 50 percent higher than those from English-speaking homes, according to the results of a new study by the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This study examines a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population each year, and the study’s researchers used statistics from the 1999 to 2018 studies of 2- to 19-year-olds. The study found that obesity among this age group rose to 19.2 percent in 2018, up from 14.7 percent in 1999.
“Childhood obesity is associated with multiple diseases in adulthood,” said Hang-Long (“Ron”) Li, a medical student at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) LKS Faculty of Science in Hong Kong, China, conducted the analysis under the direction of Professor Bernard MY Cheung, Ph.D., Sun Chieh Yeh Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at HKU. “Public health measures specifically serving children from Spanish-speaking families should be implemented to raise awareness of childhood obesity and implement health interventions.”
Li said they were the first group to identify a link between childhood obesity and language. He thought that language barriers could prevent Spanish-speaking families from understanding health education materials or accessing health-promoting resources in Spanish. In addition, he noted that food labels, which play an important role in obesity prevention efforts, may be in English only. On the other hand, these families may be aware of the health products available but are not taking action to make necessary lifestyle changes.
Existing programs to combat childhood obesity should be encouraged to homes with Spanish-speaking homes and should be sensitive to different cultural backgrounds, Li said.
“Health conversations and activities could also be conducted in Spanish to improve the dissemination of important public health knowledge, such as healthy eating and physical activity,” he said.
The researchers also found that obesity is more common in children from households with low socioeconomic status. The obesity rate was 23.8 percent in children from low-income households compared to 11 percent for children in high-income households, they said. Similarly, the incidence of obesity was 26.2 per cent in children from low-education households compared with 9.4 per cent from well-educated families.
Measures to halt this trend could include the promotion of healthy school meals and better access to and access to new nutritious food in deprived communities, Li said.
The researchers looked at U.S. trends in childhood obesity over the past two decades and found a significant increase in overall obesity among 2- to 19-year-olds. Obesity at those ages increased dramatically from 3.9 to 6.1 percent over the same period, an increase of more than 55 percent, Li said.
In children, obesity is high in weight at or above the 120th percentile for age and sex, and obesity definition is at or above the 95th percentile.
“There is an urgent need for better public health interventions to halt the growing trend in childhood obesity,” Li said.
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