Examination of Family Environmental Factors Associated with Obesity in African American Youth Resides in Baltimore City

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The University of Maryland McNair Scholars Undergraduate Research Journal, 2, (2010): 257-268.



Obesity is very prevalent in America, making it epidemic (Dalton, 2004). Obesity is the measurement of body fat based on an individual’s weight and height (kg/m squared). This measurement is called the Body Mass Index or (BMI). African Americans are at a high risk of developing obesity which is not considered a disease. The World Health Organization states differences in categorizing obesity across ethnicities. National Center of Health Statistics defines obesity for adolescence as a BMI > 95th percentile based on their age and sex (CDC, 2008). Obesity is defined for adults as BMI > 30 (NCHS, 2007). Obesity affects adult, adolescence and children alike. A study by Ogden et al. (2006) stated more than half of America’s adult population, 32.3%, is obese. Statistics for children and adolescence, male and female, are equally alarming at 16.4% (Ogden et al., 2006). Researchers Freedman et al. (2005) examined the relationship between childhood weight gains leading to adult obesity commonly known as tracking. It has been noted by various studies that adolescent obesity tracks into adulthood (Dalton, 2004; Dietz, 1998; Freedman et al., 2005). Obesity originating from childhood puts individuals at a greater risk for health concerns (Freedman et al, 2005). Understanding the importance of curbing obesity in adolescence so it will not continue throughout an individual’s life is crucial. In addition, it is commonly known that obesity leads to a rise in health cost (Dalton, 2004). Some of the health risk associated with obesity are both short and long term. Some health risks are diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and breathing difficulties or asthma (Dalton, 2004). As youth transition to adolescence, physical activity levels decline (Kimm et al., 2002) thus creating an ideal situation for weight gain. Weight gain is common during this transition. Moreover, overweight or obese African American adolescent began puberty earlier which leads to decrease activity levels (Dalton, 2004). High School years represent a life stage in which girls, and boys are not engaging in sufficient physical activity. The family environment also plays a huge role in the development of obesity (Kimm et al., 2002). It has been revealed there is a relationship between social environment and its influence in supporting or hindering physical activity. The following sections will highlight the general topic of the prevalence of obesity, health consequences and family environmental factors that relate to obesity.