A Focus Group Study of African-American Obese Children in Mississippi

Article excerpt

Abstract: Obesity is at epidemic levels in the United States and other western countries. Ethnic minority children are disproportionately affected. The purposes of this study are to provide a framework for conducting focus group studies and to inform regarding the experiences of overweight AA children. Seventeen children, ages 8 -11, participated in the study. Six themes emerged were: (1) Weight Wish, (2) Peer Relations, (3) Family Life, (4) Favorite Foods, (5) Entertainment and Physical Activities, and (6) Weight reduction activities. Results suggest that children desire to lose weight, but may not have the mechanisms at home or school to support this desire. The Davis' Checklist for conducting focus groups of children is provided.

Key Words: Childhood Obesity, Overweight Children, African American Children, Mississippi, Focus Groups

Unlike any other time in history, the scourge of obesity is at epidemic levels in the United States and other western countries (Caprio & Genel, 2005). In fact, some are now calling obesity a pandemic. In the world, at least every fourth person is too fat (Ross, Verrengia, Kurtenback & Lee, 2004). Unfortunately, children are not exempt from this epidemic. Since the 1960s, the proportion of children and adolescents who are overweight as defined by a body mass index (BMI, calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) exceeding the 95th percentile for age and sex has tripled (Ogden, Flegal, Carroll, & Johnson, 2002; Yanovski & Yanovski, 2003: Davis, et al 2003). Using the 95th percentile as the cutoff point for defining obesity, The Institute of Medicine reports that there are more than nine million American children six years and older who are obese (Axmaker, 2005).

In the state of Mississippi, a pediatric cardiologist reported treating a four year-oid who weighed 200 pounds (Smith, J., pediatric cardiologist, personal communication, March 22, 2001; Davis et al, 2002). While this is the exception, health care practitioners are in agreement that there are considerably more overweight and obese children in their practice. Childhood obesity has been associated with hyperlipidemia, Non Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus, Hypertension, and atherosclerosis (Buiten & Metzger, 2000). The incidence of diabetes is 13 times more likely to occur in children who are obese and the incidence of hypertension is 9 times more likely in children who are obese (http:www.weightawareness.com/topics/doc). Further, risk clustering studies have determined that children, aged 5 to 10 years who are overweight, are 9.7 times more likely to have two risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Type Two diabetes now accounts for 8 - 46% of all new cases of pediatric diabetes (Moreno, et al., 2002). Also noted is the disproportionate rise in the prevalence of obesity among African Americans and Hispanic /Mexican Americans. One in three U.S. White children, and one in two ethnic minority children (African American-Mexican American) born in 2000 and beyond are projected to become diabetic unless drastic changes are made in food reduction and exercise production (Centers for Disease Control, 2003).

David Ludwig, Associate Director of the Clinical Research Center at Boston Childrens' Hospital and Director of its obesity program reported at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored briefing: Reversing a Supersized Epidemic: Policy Options for Dealing with Obesity, June 6, 2004 (Kaisernet.org) stated, "studies are reporting that obese adolescents who've developed Type 2 diabetes have by their late 20s had amputations, kidney failure requiring dialysis and higher mortality. Truly staggering prospects. We'll actually looking at part of that; this is just the beginning. Within the next decade, heart attacks will become a common condition in young adults."

While researchers and medical practitioners are increasingly aware of the physiological effect of obesity on body systems, behaviorists, sociologists, and others are identifying the psychological and cultural aspects of obesity. …