Family Status Affects Teen Health Risks

Family Income and Education Level Affects Depression, Obesity Risks

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Oct. 30, 2003 -- Teenagers who grow up in low-income families or have parents with low education levels face much higher risks of depression and obesity than others.

New research shows that about one-third of depression and obesity among American teenagers can be attributed to these factors.

"Socioeconomic status accounts for a large proportion of the disease burden within the whole population," write researcher Elizabeth Goodman, MD, of Brandeis University in Watltham, Mass., and colleagues. "To understand youth health and behaviors, the context in which youth live must be considered."

Teen Health Risks Linked to Family Status

In the study, which appears in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers looked at how household income and parental education were related to rates of depression and obesity among a 1994 sample of 15,000 adolescents. The adolescents had been surveyed as a part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

Researchers calculated incidences of depression by using a standard measure of depression, and obesity rates by using the teenager's body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height used to indicate obesity).

The study showed that lower family income accounted for 26% of depression and 32% of obesity among the teens. Lower parental education was linked to 40% of depression and 39% of obesity.

Researchers say the effect of lower education levels was stronger then that of income for both depression and obesity.

They suggest that these socioeconomic factors may work in different ways to affect common health risks faced by teens, such as depression and obesity.

"For example, education's effect may relate more to differences in coping styles and other interpersonal skills, such as communication, whereas income's effect may be more strongly associated with material goods and services," write the researchers.

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SOURCES: Goodman, E. American Journal of Public Health, November 2003; vol 93. News release, Health Behavior News Service.
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