Black and Latino children were more likely than white children to be obese, witness gun violence and ride in a car without a seat belt, according to a study released Wednesday.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found wide ethnic and racial disparities in health behaviors among fifth-graders in Los Angeles, Houston and Birmingham, Ala.
“The disparities were pretty substantial across so many different health indicators,” said lead researcher Mark Schuster, a Harvard Medical School professor and chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. “The breadth of the findings was striking to us.”
The researchers examined 16 health behaviors, including cigarette smoking, alcohol use, exercise habits, terrorism fears, bike helmet use and psychological quality of life.
Many of the behaviors carry potential for lifelong health problems, Schuster said. For example, researchers found that obesity rates were twice as high among black and Latino children, placing those children at increased risk for diabetes and heart problems. Black children were also more likely to be bullied, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol than white and Latino youths.
Parents’ education and income played a critical role in the disparities, according to the study. Researchers also found that schools had a huge influence on children’s behavior, and that there were differences among schools even in the same neighborhoods.
Researchers interviewed more than 5,000 fifth-graders and their parents between 2004 and 2006. Schuster said the team focused on 10- and 11-year-olds because there was already significant research and public awareness about risky behaviors among adolescents.
“Finding disparities this young suggests that we have to start young to try to address them,” he said. “There is a strong likelihood that these disparities will persist unless we intervene to change them.”
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