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Modern Parenthood

Harvard obesity study: Low-income kids more at-risk

A new Harvard University study published this week reports that the obesity rate is rising among low-income kids, and cites lack of spaces for exercise as one contributing factor. One community serves as an exception, thanks to a neighborhood matriarch's example and a task force of caring parents.

By Correspondent / January 17, 2014

In an undated photo, a member of the Lambert's Point community, Trey Robinson, 10, poses under a banner for the NICE chess program, which takes place at the local Lambert's Point Community Center. He plays on a local football team and is a chess star in the making thanks to affordable community programs that serve families of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Lisa Suhay


A new Harvard University study shows that richer teens are thinner than lower-income teens due to better access to exercise and recreation programs. The study reports that teens from lower-income families exercise less and are effected by less-educated parenting decisions. Still, there are parents working hard to create affordable opportunities for their kids and communities.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Mrs. Harvey, 90, leads Lamberts Point kids move for Beyonce challenge in 2011.

“Increasing Socioeconomic Disparities in Adolescent Obesity” was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It reports, “Obesity rates have fallen among children of educated parents but has continued to rise among children of less wealthy, less educated parents.”

According to the study, “Low-income neighborhoods have fewer playgrounds, sidewalks, and recreational facilities. Participation in high school sports and clubs has increased among high SES (socioeconomic status) adolescents while decreasing among their low SES peers.”

To add to this challenge, other studies report that the rising cost of after-school clubs and activities could be another reason low income children miss out.

I am thankful that here in Norfolk, Va., where we live, not only do we have some wonderful recreational facilities, but they are also affordable. Membership is only $50 a year for a family of four, which allows a family to use any rec center in the city. These same centers are free for those over age 65.

Growing economic disparity is one of the root causes of childhood obesity, especially as it pertains to the inability to afford participation in a team sport, or an after-school activity that engages kids in something other than snacking in front of the TV or a video game.

Yet, despite the Harvard study and others, I do see exceptional programs developing that are keeping kids active and healthy.

In Norfolk, the Lambert's Point Community Center is an example of community-inspired, open-to-all neighborhood gathering place that supports families of all backgrounds with sports and recreational groups.

In August of 2011, the Lambert's Point Community Center In Norfolk joined other centers nationwide to encourage kids to learn and perform group dance routines in unison to Beyonce’s song “Move.” 

At that time, Ellen Pryor Harvey, then 88, led the Lambert's Point children each and every day as they learned the routine. While Mrs. Harvey died last fall at age 90, the kids still do the dance workout in her memory, because she was a remarkable woman who knew the value of getting kids moving in the right direction.


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