The study, published this week in the journal Social Science & Medicine challenges assumptions around obesity, poverty, family and education. The Penn State study relied on data about more than 16,000 children in 132 schools from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, conducted in 1994 and1995.
The study found that parents' education level has more impact on adolescent weight than financial security, but that the resources a teen experiences in school has the greatest impact.
Children from wealthy families were not necessarily trimmer. The researchers theorized that "with more money, parents could just as easily buy a bigger cable TV package, meals out or a house in a distant, new suburb" instead of investing extra income in healthier lifestyle choices.
However, children with highly-educated parents were less likely to be obese. The researchers speculated that educated parents are better equipped to help their teens make healthier choices for themselves.
Yet, school environments exert a significant influence on students' weight, which impacts students from highly-educated families, too, researchers found. Students who attend pooer schools were more likely to be overweight.
Social cliques, school lunches and physical education may play a role, the study suggests. Poorer schools may not have the resources to emphasize healthy eating or exercise habits, leading perhaps to a heavier peer group, normalizing weight gain.
Overall rates of childhood obesity in California have declined slightly in recent years, but are on the rise in the Bay Area, The Bay Citizen has reported.