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Popul Res Policy Rev. 2009 Aug 1;28(4):505-532.

Life Course Perspectives on the Links Between Poverty and Obesity During the Transition to Young Adulthood.

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Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Increasing obesity among Americans is a serious issue in the U.S., especially in the pediatric and young adult population. We use a longitudinal design to examine the relationship between childhood poverty/welfare receipt and obesity onset and continuity from adolescence into young adulthood using three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. We include multiple measures of disadvantage that co-occur with poverty and model potential mediating mechanisms within a life course framework. We find a significant effect of poverty/welfare receipt in childhood on obesity outcomes for females, but not for males. However, other measures of socioeconomic disadvantage such as neighborhood poverty, and low parental education are related to obesity in both males and females. Poverty may impact female obesity through the mediating effects of physical activity, inadequate sleep, skipping breakfast and certain forms of parental monitoring, while race is an important confounder of poverty's influence. This paper highlights the important influence of poverty and other aspects of social disadvantage on obesity outcomes during this critical transition to adulthood. Implications of this research include physical activity and parenting interventions for low-income youth. In addition, governmental efforts should be made to increase physical activity opportunities in poor neighborhoods.

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