Research shows that both genes and environmental factors contribute to the increased risk of obesity in adolescents.

A study done by University of Georgia researchers Catherine O’Neal and Kandauda Wickrama in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows community adversity is a big factor of obesity.

The researchers looked at data from a 13-year period collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to determine genetic makeup and community risks.

“The results showed people with both risk factors had a significantly higher BMI,” according to the study.

O’Neal, a postdoctoral fellow in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ department of human development and family science, discussed what initiated this research.

“Our research in general looks at family and social factors that predict a wide variety of health outcomes,” O’Neal said. “This is just kind of one particular interest in a broader scope. One of the factors that we look at is how community does influence health outcomes, which is where this piece came from.”

O’Neal talked about the issues of nature and nurture when it comes to adolescent obesity.

“The questions is no longer is it nature or is it nurture; it’s really more looking at how do they interact together” O’Neal said.

The study looked at community on a larger scale than just household environments. It takes into account unemployment rates, poverty, the types of restaurants in an area and other aspects of a larger community.

O’Neal and Wickrama gathered information from previous studies that looked at gene-environment interactions in family environments at a certain point in time and expanded their research to focus on data over several years and to a wider community scope to see how genes and community influence the obesity equation over time, according to the same article.

Autumn Adams, a third-year biology major from Snellville, agrees that community problems such as these contribute to obesity risks.

“It is expensive to eat healthy and obtain a gym membership; therefore, trying to stay fit and eat healthy may be a sacrifice in order to keep food on the table and pay bills,” Adams said.

Adams and O’Neal suggested some ways to address the community adversity problem.

“Some ways to lower obesity rates are to reduce the cost of gym membership and personal trainers,” Adams said. “Lower prices might make working out more appealing instead of being another burden.”

O’Neal emphasized improving the socioeconomic status of communities.

“What this work really shows is that public health policies that are focused at improving the socioeconomic characteristics of a community will also have an effect on the health behaviors that occurs in the community,” O’Neal said. “Things like improving the unemployment rate, increasing access to exercise facilities, making neighborhoods safer will all have a direct influence on health.”

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The “well-intended” war on childhood obesity may have unintended consequences and causing serious problems with eating disorders.

As shown in the study, School Obesity Programs May Promote Worrisome Eating Behaviors and Physical Activity in Kids, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health examined the possible association between school-based childhood obesity prevention programs and an increase in eating disorders among young children and adolescents. Thirty percent of parents of 6-14 year-olds reported at least one behavior in their children that could be associated with the development of an eating disorder.

I would like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM (CATK) to assist you looking at programs. The total health of our nation's children is a serious responsibility.

The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. Additionally, the CATK lists resources available to parents and educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:

It is my hope that you will take this opportunity to look at the information held in the CATK and keep what is included in mind when making decisions regarding the children in your charge.

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