Why Obesity Afflicts So Many Hispanic Children

Feb 21, 2019

Childhood obesity remains a problem in this country, and it’s especially serious in Hispanic communities where kids are 2-3 times more likely to be obese than their white counterparts.  Now,  a UVA scholar has won $2.7 million from the federal government to find out why.

UVA Nursing School Administrator Anna Maria Siega-Riz will lead a national study of why so many Hispanic children are obese.
Credit UVA

In a diverse group of American children between the ages of 2 and 19, nearly one in five will be obese, and if all the kids are Hispanic, that number rises to more than one in four.  That’s bad news according to Anna Maria Siega-Riz associate dean at UVA’s School of Nursing, because she says, "Once you’re obese it’s really hard to reverse it."

Obesity boost the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Siega-Riz says there could be a link between a child’s health and the mother’s diet – even before pregnancy: 

“It’s too late to start in pregnancy to change what’s happening in utero, " she explains. "We really want to get women to eat better so that they begin pregnancy in an optimal condition both for themselves and the child.”

As part of a national study, she will look at genetics, at mothers’ attitudes toward food and their feeding patterns.  Siega-Riz says many Americans are offering solid food to babies before six months of age.

“We know that if you end up introducing more sweet types of foods, children tend to prefer those flavors, and then it’s really hard for them to eat vegetables which tend to have bitter tastes associated with them,” Siega-Riz says.

The study will involve 440 Hispanic mothers and could produce findings in as little as three years. 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.