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Obesity In 3-6 Year Olds Is Related to Socioeconomic Status But Not To Physical Activity Levels

sharma-obesity-kids-playing-outsideOne of the more persistent “myths” about obesity is that overweight and obese kids are big largely because of their reduced levels of physical activity.

As regular readers may recall, this was not borne out by previous surveys on physical activity, where the relationship between physical activity and body size have been rather inconsistent.

Now a paper by Vorwerg and colleagues from the University of Leipzig, Germany, published in PLoS One, again fails to find a significant relationship between physical activity levels and body weight in German pre-schoolers.

Thus, based on measurements of physical activity using accelerometers, boys generally clocked about an extra hour of vigorously activity per week compared to girls and overall activity levels were significantly lover on weekends than on weekdays.

However, there was no relationship between body weight and levels of physical activity or levels of daily media consumption.

Rather, both body weight and media consumption were inversely associated with decreasing socioeconomic class, which in fact, turned out to be the only variable that had an ‘independent’ impact on body weight.

Thus, the authors conclude that weight status of preschoolers is considerably influenced by socioeconomic factors, but not by physical activity levels.

These findings certainly do not argue against increasing physical activity levels in all pre-schoolers – this is sure to have many health benefits – just perhaps not on body weight.

Will the kids get fitter? Yes! Less fat? Probably not!

Edmonton, Alberta

ResearchBlogging.orgVorwerg Y, Petroff D, Kiess W, & Blüher S (2013). Physical Activity in 3-6 Year Old Children Measured by SenseWear Pro®: Direct Accelerometry in the Course of the Week and Relation to Weight Status, Media Consumption, and Socioeconomic Factors. PloS one, 8 (4) PMID: 23573273




  1. Presumably, this means that heavier children actually expend *more* calories on physical activity than their lighter peers, given that for a constant level of activity additional energy is used for each additional unit of body mass?

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  2. Wait, increased media consumption means sitting in front of the television/video game system/computer? Does that mean that obesity is independently associated with sitting but not associated with the amount of time running around in play?

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    • May well be the case as media consumption (e.g. video gaming, TV, etc.) has been shown to have a net positive effect on caloric intake.

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  3. I volunteer as a tutor with three low-income housing facilities. My students are of various ages, all but one are overweight; most are extremely overweight. It’s been my anecdotal observation that food plays a very different role overall in the social dynamics of a low-income household and for low-income individuals as compared to my own points of reference.

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    • Dagny: your observations are spot on – the lower the household income the unealthier the diets tend to be – as you may know, food insecurity is rather consistently associated with obesity.

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  4. Also, heavier people can’t get the higher paying jobs as easily, and may well have mental health issues, so these can be be factors as well.

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  5. Bingo. Body size is hereditary, heavier adults face employment and social discrimination, and heavier adults tend to have children that look like them. It’s probably a significant factor in the link between obesity and poverty, but it’s never mentioned in the public discussion about the issue.

    I used to think that it was because of blame. We want to blame the parents or poverty for the existence of fat kids. The flip side of it is that we don’t want to admit that it’s natural and normal for some people to be heavier – even much heavier – than others. We want to believe that we can create a world where we will never have to be offended by the sight of a fat person. It’s ironic that all of the fuss over the issue is (I think) having precisely the opposite effect.

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