Early predictors of obesity and health behaviors : a retrospective analysis of college students

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Extensive previous research has shown that low socioeconomic status in childhood is predictive of adult obesity. Thus, children growing up in situations with fewer economic resources have a higher risk of adult obesity. The Cumulative Stress Model suggest that the confluence various stressors associated with childhood poverty, results in chronic stress, which, in turn, leads to adult obesity as a result of consumption of high fat and high sugar foods that serves as a coping mechanism. The current study investigated the whether chronic stress during childhood was a better predictor of adult obesity than other proposed models. These included the Food Choice Constraints Model, the Neighborhood Affluence Model, and the Feast and Famine Cycle Model, as well as a model based on health disparities at birth. This study used of a novel retrospective survey to examine the influence of various childhood circumstances on adult body mass index (BMI) among a group of college students including as subgroup oversampled for childhood poverty. Results failed to confirm the predicted relationship between childhood poverty and increased adult BMI or other measures typically associated with BMI, including dietary fat intake, fruit and vegetable intake, and physical activity. The best childhood predictors of adult BMI were low birth weight and father's overweight. SNAP participation was positively associated with increased fruit and vegetable intake, which provides tentative support for the Feast and Famine Cycle Model. This model predicts overeating of all types of foods as food becomes more plentiful. Future research is needed to elucidate those specific aspects of childhood poverty that predict adult obesity. Such data may suggest the most effective approaches to avoiding the life-long negative health consequences of child poverty, including obesity.




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