The childhood obesity epidemic is one of the many reasons Organic Authority encourages families to buy organic food, and we’re committed to publishing the latest medical research. Here’s an item that’s of particular importance to our Hispanic readers, but all parents should review it.

A study of more than 2,400 children in 20 U.S. cities suggests Hispanic 3-year-olds have a higher prevalence of obesity than their black or white peers. This disparity does not seem to be explained by socioeconomic factors typically linked to childhood obesity, according to an article in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers know that by the time U.S. children reach adolescence, there are disparities in the prevalence of obesity among racial and ethnic groups, but little is known about the age at which these differences begin to appear. Their origins may lie in the preschool years because eating and exercise habits develop early and a mother’s obesity before and immediately after birth may influence her child’s risk.

Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH, and Sean M. Orzol, MPH, of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., in Princeton, NJ, studied 2,452 children born in 75 U.S. hospitals between 1998 and 2000. Mothers were surveyed in hospitals after giving birth and again one and three years later, answering questions about their ethnic background, education level, income and access to food. The three-year survey was an in-home interview, during which researchers also measured children’s height, weight and body mass index (BMI). Children with BMIs at the 95th percentile or higher for their age and sex were considered obese.

About 19% of the children were white, 52.2% were black, 25.4% were Hispanic and 3.1% were another race or ethnicity. At the three-year interview, 18.4% of all children were obese, including 25.8% of Hispanic children, 16.2% of black children and 14.8% of white children. Hispanic children had significantly higher odds of being obese than black or white children, even when researchers adjusted for three socioeconomic factors linked to childhood obesity: mothers’ education level, household income and food security (access to food).

“This disparity in obesity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic children seems to develop early in life, so future research into modifiable determinants of this disparity should focus on the period from conception to school entry,” the authors conclude.

Studies that look more closely at the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of Latino children would help researchers understand more about the risk factors for obesity in this group, writes Elena Fuentes-Afflick, MD, MPH, of San Francisco General Hospital, in an accompanying editorial.

“There may be cultural differences in the ‘ideal’ body image for children and adults and these differences could contribute to the high rates of obesity among Latino children,” she writes. “For Latino immigrants, who may have experienced hunger as children or witnessed the adverse effects of malnutrition, the ideal image of a healthy baby or child may be an ‘overweight’ image by current body mass standards.”

The research community “must investigate the underlying risk factors and develop effective interventions to improve health and well-being for Latino children and their families,” Dr. Fuentes-Afflick concludes.