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Am J Public Health. 2014 May;104(5):e70-6. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301806. Epub 2014 Mar 13.

Longitudinal associations between poverty and obesity from birth through adolescence.

Author information

Hedwig Lee is with the Department of Sociology, University of Washington, Seattle. Megan Andrew is with the Department of Sociology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN. Achamyeleh Gebremariam is with the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit, Julie C. Lumeng is with the Center for Human Growth and Development, and Joyce M. Lee is with the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit, Pediatric Endocrinology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.



We examined the relationship between timing of poverty and risk of first-incidence obesity from ages 3 to 15.5 years.


We used the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (1991-2007) to study 1150 children with repeated measures of income, weight, and height from birth to 15.5 years in 10 US cities. Our dependent variable was the first incidence of obesity (body mass index ≥ 95th percentile). We measured poverty (income-to-needs ratio < 2) prior to age 2 years and a lagged, time-varying measure of poverty between ages 2 and 12 years. We estimated discrete-time hazard models of the relative risk of first transition to obesity.


Poverty prior to age 2 years was associated with risk of obesity by age 15.5 years in fully adjusted models. These associations did not vary by gender.


Our findings suggest that there are enduring associations between early life poverty and adolescent obesity. This stage in the life course may serve as a critical period for both poverty and obesity prevention.

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