Attending a financially poor school may have more of an effect on unhealthy adolescent weight than family poverty, according to Penn State sociologists.
Poor schools even influence how parental education protects kids from becoming overweight.
"It was once thought that family income was the main factor when we talk about the research on adolescent weight," said Molly Martin, assistant professor of sociology and demography. "That's not true. The environments the children live in play a key role in weight problems among adolescents."
Martin said that the level of a school's financial resources significantly predicted adolescent weight problems, but the average education level of the parents for students in those schools did not.
The researchers said that students with well-educated parents are less likely to be overweight. However, the effect of having a better-educated parent is minimized if the student attends a poor school, said Michelle Frisco, associate professor of sociology and demography.
A parent with a graduate degree and who has a child in a poor school is more likely to raise an overweight adolescent than a parent with an eighth grade education who has an adolescent enrolled in a rich school, according to researchers.
"The environment can actually limit our ability to make the choices that we all think we make freely," said Frisco.
Many experts believe that well-educated parents can use more tools to help their children maintain a healthy weight, despite environmental pressures, Martin said. For instance, they can recognize health issues associated with being overweight and are more comfortable communicating with doctors. Well-educated parents can also teach their children about nutrition and food choices.
The researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of Social Science and Medicine, analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that included information about 16,
|Contact: Matt Swayne|