Harsh economic realities often affect our health status. If you live in an affluent or middle-class neighborhood, you have the access and means to buy farm-fresh produce and organic food.

A study published in the May 24 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that older teens (15 to 17) who live in poverty are more likely to be overweight than peers from wealthier families. This is not the first study to link poverty and obesity, and its findings echo past research.

The number of overweight adolescents has more than doubled over the last three decades, putting them at risk for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, poor quality of life, and increased illness and risk of death in adulthood. Richard A. Miech, PhD, MPH, and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University found that obesity trends vary by age groups, with a 50% higher prevalence in older adolescents from poor families. In younger teens (12 to 14), poverty played a lesser role.

The culprits seem to be physical inactivity, sweetened beverage consumption and skipping breakfast, according to the researchers.

“The observed differences across older versus younger adolescents are consistent with the greater autonomy that comes with increasing age,” the authors write. “Adolescents aged 15 to 17 years versus those aged 12 to 14 years have more opportunities to purchase their own food and determine their own leisure time pursuits and also have more discretionary income with which to act on their preferences. These results suggest that efforts to reduce health disparities in the United States require monitoring of population health, so that emergent disparities and their underlying causes can be detected and addressed at early stages of their development.”