Life Course Perspectives on the Links Between Poverty
and Obesity During the Transition to Young Adulthood
Hedwig Lee Æ Kathleen Mullan Harris Æ
Received: 20 August 2007 / Accepted: 17 October 2008 / Published online: 7 November 2008
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008
Abstract Increasing obesity among Americans is a serious issue in the US,
especially in the pediatric and young adult population. We use a longitudinal design
to examine the relationship between childhood poverty/welfare receipt and obesity
onset and continuity from adolescence into young adulthood using three waves of
the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. We include multiple mea-
sures of disadvantage that co-occur with poverty and model potential mediating
mechanisms within a life course framework. We ﬁnd a signiﬁcant effect of poverty/
welfare receipt in childhood on obesity outcomes for females, but not for males.
However, other measures of socioeconomic disadvantage such as neighborhood
poverty, and low parental education are related to obesity in both males and
females. Poverty may impact female obesity through the mediating effects of
physical activity, inadequate sleep, skipping breakfast and certain forms of parental
monitoring, while race is an important confounder of poverty’s inﬂuence. This
paper highlights the important inﬂuence of poverty and other aspects of social
disadvantage on obesity outcomes during this critical transition to adulthood.
Implications of this research include physical activity and parenting interventions
for low-income youth. In addition, governmental efforts should be made to increase
physical activity opportunities in poor neighborhoods.
H. Lee Á K. M. Harris
Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
H. Lee (&) Á K. M. Harris Á P. Gordon-Larsen
The Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, CB# 8120, University Square, 123W.
Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516, USA
Department of Nutrition, Schools of Public Health and Medicine, University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Popul Res Policy Rev (2009) 28:505–532