A surge in the prevalence of childhood obesity over the last several decades in the U.S. has raised concerns from not only public health authorities, but also from various fields such as medicine, sociology, psychology, and economics. The present research examines factors associated with childhood obesity in the U.S. The first part of this dissertation identifies economic, environmental, and endowment effects on childhood obesity; the second examines the relationship between childhood malnutrition, both underweight and overweight, on school performance.
A national longitudinal dataset "Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten-Fifth Grade" (ECLS-K), containing data for 12,719 children from fall 1998 (Kindergarten year) through spring 2004 (Fifth grade), with additional information from the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is used. A mixed-effect ordered Logit (proportional odds) is used in the first part of this study, and a mixed-effects linear model is used in the second. The first part is estimated in two separate regressions, a reduced-form health demand function, and a health production function.
In the first part of the study, results for the health demand function indicate that the likelihood of childhood obesity increases with the higher number of working hours per week by parent(s), lower level of parents' socioeconomic status (parents' education and household income), fewer number of siblings, higher child birth weight, and minority status.
The results for the health production function, which includes a set of health inputs as explanatory variables, indicate that less-healthy parents, school lunch participation, and fewer physical activities are correlated with the higher likelihood of children being overweight.
The results from the second part show that malnourished children, either underweight or overweight, achieve lower scores on standardized tests, particularly for mathematics. This pattern remains significant, whether contemporaneous weight status or changes in weight status over time are used as explanatory variables.
Additionally, students with higher frequency of reading time, fewer hours spent watching TV, and fewer hours in child care (i.e., non-parental care) achieve higher test scores. A household's higher socio-economic status (parents' education and income), parents' expectations for their child's schooling, parents' higher level of involvement with school activities, and households that have a computer for their child's use are correlated with higher school achievement. On the other hand, students with more siblings, students whose family move frequently, and households with some level of food insecurity are associated with lower school performance.
Student test scores increase with teacher experience, which is measured by the number of teaching years (for reading scores) and those with a masters or professional degree (for math scores). School institutional characteristics that are important for students' higher achievement are private school (for reading scores), lower teacher turn over rates, higher percentage of students in school testing at or above the national level, and a lower percentage of minority students.
Taken together, the results from both parts of this study emphasize the need to reduce childhood malnutrition, particularly childhood obesity. This task can not be accomplished without a combination of government policies, parents' time commitment, and school's involvement; all are needed to address problems of childhood obesity. Schools can promote good nutrition through healthy school meals and encourage physical activities through physical and health education programs. Given the link between parental working hours and children being overweight, flexibility in working hours and benefits such as health insurance for parents who work part time could promote effective parenting. Most importantly, government programs that affect both school-based and home-based efforts such as school lunch, physical education programs, and parental working conditions play a major role in curbing the childhood obesity problem.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. January 2009. Major: Agricultural and Applied Economics. Advisor: Professor Jean D. Kinsey. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 135 pages, appendix: pages 130-135. Ill. (some col.)
Wendt, Minh Hoang Do.
Economic, environmental, and endowment effects on childhood obesity and school performance..
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