Trends in the Association of Poverty with Overweight Among US Adolescents, 1971-2004

The current study investigated whether disparity based on poverty status has increased in the adolescent overweight population over time. The impact of behaviors such as physical activity on adolescent overweight disparities was also explored. Data came from four cohorts of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) spanning the period from 1971 to 2004.

Key Findings:

  • For the two most recent NHANES surveys, the difference in prevalence of adolescent overweight was clearest for youth who were between 15 and 17 years.
  • Overweight was observed at a 50 percent higher rate in older adolescents in poor families as compared to nonpoor families in the 1999-2004 timeframe.
  • The widest overweight discrepancy existed between youth whose families lived below poverty level and youth from all other income groups.
  • Overall, discrepancies in adolescent overweight remained the same for youth between 12 and 17 throughout the four NHANES survey cohorts examined.
  • For older adolescents, ages 15 to 17 years, there was a disparity in physical activity based on family poverty level. Youth from poor families were physically inactive at twice the rate as youth from nonpoor families.
  • Consuming sweetened beverages and skipping breakfast had significant relationships with overweight for youth between 12 and 17 in the 1999-2002 NHANES survey.