Thursday, September 24, 2020

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Kirin Kalia "Childhood Obesity and its Impact on Latinos"

Kirin Kalia-MPI-photo

Latinovations would like to thank Kirin Kalia, Editor of the Migration Information Source, for her contribution to La Plaza.

In the land of milk and cookies, children of all backgrounds are inundated with junk-food advertisements and poor eating opportunities. This environment has likely contributed to the U.S. childhood obesity epidemic: the most recent estimates suggest that 36.2 percent of all 6- to 11-year-olds are either overweight or obese.

For children of immigrants, the news is even less good. A new study published on the Migration Information Source, the online journal of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, reveals that children from newly arrived immigrant families tend to be the most at risk of obesity, particularly boys.

Drill down a little further and the data show that the highest obesity rates were among non-Hispanic white and Hispanic children.

The study, led by sociologist and demographer Jennifer Van Hook at Pennsylvania State University, was based on data from the federally funded Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. It tracked a nationally representative sample of about 21,000 children from kindergarten (fall 1998) through eighth grade (fall 2006). About two-thirds of the Hispanic children in the study are of Mexican descent.

A Pew Hispanic Center analysis of 2008 Current Population Survey data found there were about 9.9 million Hispanic children of immigrants in 2008, 83 percent of them born in the United States.

The obesity rate for Hispanic children whose parents arrived in the United States after age 12 (the newly arrived) was 38 percent in kindergarten and first grade, then jumped to 44 percent in third grade and 46 percent in fifth grade (click here for a chart). At that point, the only children with higher obesity rates (47 percent) were Hispanic children of native-born parents, recording 31 percent in kindergarten and 38 percent in third grade.

For Hispanic children whose parents arrived in the United States before age 12 (settled immigrants), obesity rates remained below 30 percent through fifth grade. By eighth grade, though, their obesity rate had jumped to 42 percent.

Poverty, it turns out, does not fully explain why children of immigrants have higher obesity rates than children of the native born. The study divided kindergarteners by their parents’ socioeconomic status (a combination of income, education, and occupation) and found that among those of the lowest status, children of new arrivals had an obesity rate of 33 percent compared to 29 percent for children whose parents were born in the United States.

Interestingly, obesity appears linked to a family’s English language ability, particularly for boys. Among immigrant parents with low and medium levels of English proficiency, fifth-grade boys had obesity rates of 56 percent and 62 percent, respectively. Those fifth-grade boys whose parents had high levels of English proficiency had an obesity rate of 45 percent.

Since obesity in childhood negatively affects adult health, mortality, and status attainment, Van Hook and her coauthors believe such high obesity rates could hinder these children’s future social and economic incorporation. Their recommendation: any strategy against childhood obesity should include interventions that target the children of immigrant families.

For more interesting articles from the Migration Information Source, sign up here.

Kirin Kalia is Editor of the Migration Information Source, an online migration resource for journalists, policymakers, and researchers that is a project of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC. She holds an MA in Migration and Ethnic Studies from the University of Amsterdam and a BA in Political Science from Bryn Mawr College.