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Study: Kids in Finland's low-income areas at higher risk for obesity

A study by the University of Turku examined the relationship between the socioeconomic status of an area and the development of a child’s body mass index.

Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

A neighbourhood’s socioeconomic status affects the weight development of children in the area, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Turku's Department of Public Health (siirryt toiseen palveluun). The study concluded that living in a financially disadvantaged area is a significant risk factor for becoming overweight.

The study researched the connection between the social characteristics of a residential area and the development of a child's weight, focusing on the relationship between low-income residential areas and the development of a child's body mass index (BMI) from birth until the age of seven.

The results were achieved by analysing the growth data of more than 11,000 children obtained from the register of children's clinics in Finland. Data regarding neighbourhood social disadvantage was derived from a grid database established and maintained by Statistics Finland. Residential mobility data, based on a complete history of the residential addresses for each mother and her child, was obtained from the Population Register Centre.

"An area's poor socioeconomic status was established by the level of education and income of the adult population in the area, as well as unemployment data. The results were independent of the educational level, financial situation, marital status and health of the parents of the children studied," said Hanna Lagström, the docent responsible for the study, in a press release.

According to the study, children growing up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods exhibited a trajectory of increasing BMI scores, starting at four years of age, ending up with a higher risk of overweight compared to children living in more affluent districts. The study also considered other factors that may increase the risk of being overweight in childhood, including maternal type 2 diabetes, maternal smoking, and high birth weight.

In more affluent areas, children were heavier at birth, but by the age of four, their weight development had levelled off.

"This may indicate that living environments provide very different developmental environments for children and that the risk of overweight increases before school age in socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The results of our research could be taken into account, for example, in urban planning, in order to help curb inequality from an early age," Lagström said.