Low family income and the overweight status of Canadian adolescents
Authors: Jennifer O'Dea and Michael Eriksen
In Canada, as in many other countries, the prevalence of overweight/obesity among children and youth has more than doubled over the past 25 years. Based on self-reports of height and weight, data indicates that in 2005, 19.4% of Canadian girls aged 12 to 17 were overweight and 3.5% were obese; 24.1% of Canadian boys the same age were over-weight and 6.1% were obese. A variety of explanations for high levels of obesity among young people have been examined in the literature. These include poor eating habits, lack of exercise and/or too much sedentary behaviour, parental obesity and/or genetic factors, and subjective social status. Other studies have also explored the role of low family income as a correlate of youth overweight status and it is upon this literature, in particular, that this chapter builds. In Canada, despite a unanimous vote in the House of Commons in 1989 to end child poverty by the year 2000, in fact, no progress has been made; 15.3% of children were poor in 1991 and this increased steadily to 16.8% were poor in 2004. Current high levels of unemployment in Canada are likely to mean further increases in child poverty. Thus, both child poverty and child obesity are problems, and the chapter explores the connections between the two. The goals are to estimate the relationship between obesity and low family income for Canadian teens and to examine potential pathways for this relationship. In particular, it focuses on the teen’s level of physical activity, his or her eating habits and family food security, hours spent in paid work, and ‘sense of belonging to the local community’.
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