It runs in the family: A biocultural analysis of intergenerational obesity among low-income families in Buffalo, NY
Cadzow, Renee Beth
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Minority and disadvantaged populations experience higher morbidity and mortality from diseases associated with poor nutrition and obesity, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, and cancer. The most significant predictor of childhood obesity is parental obesity. Heredity is not the sole cause of this connection; it is important to understand the family environment, including facilitators and barriers to nutrition modification in order to inform culturally appropriate community based participatory interventions. The rates of these diseases will likely decrease if steps are taken to curb childhood obesity and improve lifestyle behaviors early in life. Employing a biocultural political economic perspective, this project sought to identify aspects of the household and family that are strongly correlated with the presence of obese individuals in the household. A second aim was to identify barriers and facilitators to healthy behaviors that can be addressed in community intervention programs. The researcher conducted structured and semi-structured in-depth interviews and quantitative anthropometric measurements of families with children aged 6-12 who volunteered after receiving a flier from their child's primary care physician or school. The interviews and measurements occurred in participants' homes in urban areas of Buffalo, NY. Recruitment was purposefully conducted in a primary low-income African-American area (the family practice site) as well as through an inner-city school, thus participating families are mostly low-income African-American. Fifty-four home visits were conducted between December 2006 and July 2007. Child weight status (z-scores of BMI, weight, and percent body fat) was significantly related to parent weight status (p<0.001). Additionally, higher weight status (weight z-score) among children and their parent/guardians is significantly related to the presence of neighborhood cohesiveness and the perception that the neighborhood is not dangerous (p<0.01). Children whose parents were employed and had higher incomes and more household possessions were less lean than those whose parents were unemployed, had lower incomes and fewer household possessions. Higher weight status of children also showed a relationship with frequent church attendance, watching more television, and getting less sleep. Some of the relationships that emerged from these data were expected while others raise many more questions. The data show that the influences on obesity in a low-income urban U.S. sample are intimately and intricately intertwined. Further research is suggested for exploring these relationships.