Assessing the Prevalence of Childhood Obesity Among Limited-Resource Latino and Non-Latino Families in Virginia
Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University
Investigator: Serrano, Elena L., and Ruby H. Cox
Institution: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
Elena Serrano, Assistant Professor
Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise
252 Wallace Hall
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, VA 24601
Obesity among U.S. children is an increasing concern. Nationwide data
from 2000 show that an estimated 15 percent of children and adolescents
age 6-19 are overweight, a rate that has tripled within 30 years. The risk of
obesity crosses all socioeconomic and ethnic groups, but obesity is slightly
more prevalent in low-income groups, and in Native American, Hispanic,
and African American populations. In Virginia, few data exist on the prevalence
of overweight or obesity among the youth population, particularly
Latinos, a growing population in the South. This study investigated the
prevalence of overweight among Latino and non-Latino low-income
Virginia youth. The research also identified potential contributors to obesity
and examined alternative methods for determining overweight.
Data were gathered from two population groups: Latina mothers (Part I) and
Latino and non-Latino children (Parts II & III). In Part I, 85 Latina mothers
were recruited through the Virginia Expanded Food and Nutrition Education
Program (EFNEP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Demographic information, acculturation,
and dietary and physical activity patterns were assessed using bilingual
written survey instruments.
Part II involved the collection of height, weight, and waist circumference
data from 217 children from 5 ethnically diverse elementary and middle
schools attended by low-income students in rural and urban areas of
Virginia. A sub-sample of this population (Part III) was used to evaluate
body figure scales developed specifically for Latinos. A short survey instrument
exploring dietary and physical activity patterns was also administered.
Informed consent was obtained from all subjects and parents.
The results indicated that the Latinas included in the study were mainly
from Bolivia and El Salvador, demonstrated limited acculturation, and
spoke Spanish as a primary language. Almost half the participants were
overweight or obese (based on reported height and weight), nearly 50
percent reached the 5-A-Day goal for fruits and vegetables, and only 15
percent met the recommendations for physical activity. Fifty percent of
subjects were female, 41.7 percent White, 25 percent Black, and 20.7
percent Latino. Body Mass Index (BMI) percentiles, based on age and sex,
ranged from 3.6 to 99.9, with a mean percentile of 64.9 and a median of
68.5. Less than 5 percent (4.5 percent) of subjects were considered underweight,
one-sixth (14.7 percent) were at risk of overweight, and almost onequarter
(22.6 percent) were overweight, based on Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) cutoff points. Females had significantly
higher BMI percentiles than males, with means of 67.4 and 64.5, respectively.
Multivariate regression found an interaction between rural/urban residency
and ethnicity. White rural children were significantly heavier and had
larger waist circumferences than those living in urban areas. Conversely,
Latino and Black children living in urban areas were significantly heavier
than those living in rural areas.
The study also examined an alternative method to determine overweight.
Respondents were asked to choose the body figure, a visual representation
of different body weights that most closely resembled their own. Results
indicated that respondents with higher BMI were more likely to choose a
figure choice that indicated overweight.
The study documented a rate of obesity among Latino and non-Latino lowincome
youth and mothers that is much higher than national averages. The
study used a convenience sample, and thus it may not be representative of
other regions and/or population sub-groups.