King County, WA—According to a study done by a team of researchers at University of Washington, childhood obesity is often linked with socially disadvantaged neighborhoods as reported in the Social Science & Medicine journal. A study in King County was recently conducted with 8,616 children between the ages of six through 18.

This study, unlike other previous studies, pulled weight measurements from medical records rather than using self reports from the study subjects. By using the medical records, the results were more reliable. These statistics were correlated with social and economic characteristics of Seattle-area census tracts. Researchers found obesity most common in children living in low socio-economic neighborhoods in single-parent homes, where the mother is not always highly educated. These socioeconomic factors accounted for 24% of the variability in childhood obesity rates across neighborhoods.

What children are surrounded by plays an important role in their health. For example some neighborhoods may have less access to healthy foods and more access to unhealthy food options like fast food restaurants. Some of these lower socioeconomic neighborhoods may also lack safe places for children to play outdoors so they are not able to get the exercise they need.

Another reason why obesity rates are higher in low socioeconomic families is that fast-food is a quick and cheap option. Organic foods usually tend to be pricier, making it harder for families to purchase healthy options. Some neighborhoods even lack near-by grocery stores, so fresh produce can sometimes be hard to come by.

In an effort to stop this growing trend, even the White House is getting involved. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign works to provide healthier food in schools. “Let’s Move” also helps kids to be more physically active, and make healthy, affordable food available in every part of our country.

According to the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2010 (published ahead of print on June 26, 2010)