Poverty, Parent Education Linked to Student Weight

Attending a less affluent school may have a greater effect on unhealthy adolescent weight than household poverty, according to sociologists at Penn State, and even influence how a parent's education can shepherd a child from becoming overweight.

Molly Martin, assistant professor of sociology and demography, said:

"It was once thought that family income was the main factor when we talk about the research on adolescent weight. That's not true. The environments the children live in play a key role in weight problems among adolescents."

Martin believes that the grade of a school's available financial resources significantly have an affect on adolescent weight, but the average level of education held by a parent of students attending those schools did not, reports the Gant Daily.

Researchers reported that students with academically accomplished parents are less likely to be overweight. Nonetheless, the benefit of this is reduced if the student attends a less well off school, said Michelle Frisco, associate professor of sociology and demography.

Therefore, according to researchers, a parent who has attained a graduate degree and has a child attending a less affluent school is more likely to raise an overweight adolescent than the parent with an eighth grade education with an adolescent attending a more affluent school.

"The environment can actually limit our ability to make the choices that we all think we make freely," said Frisco.

A number of experts conceive that well-educated parents are able to apply more of their skills to help their children sustain a healthy weight and instruct them on healthy and balanced nutrition, despite environmental pressures, Martin said.

They also possess the ability to distinguish health issues concerned with being overweight and are confident communicating them with doctors.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which was comprised of information about 16,133 students in 132 schools.

Adolescents who are overweight may be influenced in more ways than unhealthy cafeteria choices at poorer schools.

According to Martin, Frisco and Kristin Burnett of the U.S. Census Bureau, poorer schools perhaps do not have the capable resources to fund fitness regimes. Schools with better financial backing may have the means to implement multiple meal options, such as vegetarian dishes, whereas schools with a narrow spectrum of resources may rely on vending machine profit.

Stress may also contribute to a student's accumulation of weight.

"Schools with limited financial resources tend to be more stressful environments," said Martin.

"Stress promotes weight gains and usually the worst kinds of weight gains," as excessive stress-induced weight gain around the midsection can be linked to ailments such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

This comes as one out of three American children is overweight or obese. The Obama Administration has attempted to stem this by implementing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which aims to improve the quality of meals served to students in the nation's cafeterias.

However, this legislation has been criticized by some who believe that the new restrictions on starches and salt content will make it difficult to produce meals that meet the standard and still be delicious enough for students to enjoy.

Sally Spero, San Diego Unified School District's food planning supervisor, said:

"I know this is well-intended. I'm concerned about unintended consequences: That schools would stop serving breakfast because it would be too expensive, or that kids would stop eating lunch because it doesn't taste good."

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