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Researchers find that black and Hispanic children are much more likely than other children to be overweight

A recent study funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10771 and HS10856) shows that black and Hispanic children face much higher odds of being overweight than non-Hispanic white or Asian-American and Pacific Islander children. Black children ages 6 to 11 are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic white children to be overweight, and Hispanic children are roughly twice as likely.

The odds change dramatically when children become teenagers. For example, as children, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have the lowest prevalence of being overweight, but once they reach adolescence, the reverse is true. As teens, they have the highest prevalence of being overweight—more than four times that of non-Hispanic white teenagers.

Black children have the highest rate of being overweight, but once they reach their teen years, they are no more likely than white children to be overweight. Hispanic teens are one-and-a-half times more likely than white or black teens to be overweight.

The researchers, who were led by Jennifer Haas, M.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, also found that regardless of their race or ethnicity, adolescents not covered by private health insurance and those enrolled in Medicaid are the most likely to be overweight. However, a relationship between insurance status and being overweight was not observed for younger children.

Although a previous study reported a lower risk of being overweight among adolescents from households with higher incomes, this study found that adolescents from higher income households were more likely to be overweight than their lower income counterparts. Such conflicting findings indicate the need for further research into the relationship between socioeconomic status and the prevalence of being overweight among adolescents, notes Dr. Haas. Data for this study were drawn from interviews conducted as part of AHRQ's 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Household Component.

For more information, see "The association of race, socioeconomic status, and health insurance with the prevalence of overweight in children and adolescents," by Dr. Haas, Lisa B. Lee, B.S., Celia P. Kaplan, Dr.P.H., and others, in the December 1, 2003, American Journal of Public Health 93(12), pp. 2105-2110.

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