The effects of socioeconomic status (SES) on childhood obesity is the focus of research recently undertaken by Max Roy ’14 of Fredonia, Wis. The exercise science major participates in Ripon College’s Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which helps prepare first-generation, low-income and racially underrepresented students for graduate school and the attainment of doctorate degrees. He spent the summer of 2013 doing research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The basics of my project were to look at the association — whether a positive or negative correlation — that socioeconomic status has with childhood obesity prevalence in a developed country,” Roy says. He adds that there is a great deal of difference socioeconomic status has between developed, developing or underdeveloped countries.
“Childhood obesity is unique in itself because what we used to think was that obesity would result in unique adverse health effects in adults only,” he says. “What we are finding out now is that, with the increase of obesity in children, these adverse health effects are also able to occur in children.”
Roy found eight studies done in developed countries around the globe that examined associations that may exist between socioeconomic status and childhood obesity. The subjects were children between ages 5 and 12. Factors making up socioeconomic status included parents’ education, income and occupation, and some studies also used government information in terms of their neighborhood SES category.
Roy determined that low socioeconomic status showed higher numbers of children with obesity in developed countries. “With this in mind,” he says, “we now are able to develop strategies in terms of intervention and prevention.”
These include developing more efficient curriculum and school food programs, with a need to focus on what is offered at school lunches and in vending machines in terms of healthy options, he says. He adds that there also should be more critical focus on health education and physical education. Children should be allowed to learn the concepts of diet and eating habits to promote better health, as well as learn the importance of physical activity and the positive benefits it will have on health, both as a young person and on through adulthood.
“The main conclusion of my study is that there is a strong association between low SES and increased childhood obesity prevalence,” he says. “My second conclusion is that, although SES plays a strong role in the association, there are also many other factors that need to be researched that could also play a role in increased childhood obesity prevalence, such as parenting beliefs on food choice and physical activity levels of children.” He says education and influence of culture also are factors.
Roy chose this area of study because of his own background. “Being from a lower SES-class family, I was also a statistic of childhood obesity,” he says. “I did not deal with a number of adverse health effects, and I battled against it. But I see myself as an individual who could do a lot to help the effort to battle the issue of childhood obesity in the United States, since it is a rapidly growing problem.”
He says he has gained valuable experience serving as vice president and currently president of his fraternity, Phi Kappa Pi. His summer research, he says, would not have been possible without his participation in the McNair program. “I would say that any students who are qualified to be a McNair Scholar and who are interested in graduate degrees should think of applying to this program,” he says. “And any student who is interested in pursuing a graduate degree should try to get a summer research opportunity to add to their resume for graduate school. The experience is priceless.”
-Tsering Yangchen ’14
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