A Five-Year Comparison of the Prevalence of Low-Income Preschooler Overweight and Obesity

Wednesday, July 13, 2011: 3:45 PM

Bonnie Lee Harbaugh, PhD, RN
School of Nursing, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS
Jerome R. Kolbo, PhD, ACSW
School of Social Work, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS
Elaine F. Molaison, PhD, RD
Nutrition and Food Systems, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS
Lei Zhang, PhD, MPH
Department of Health Data and Research, Mississippi State Department of Health, Jackson, MS

Learning Objective 1: Cite the importance and health consequences of the worldwide childhood obesity epidemic.

Learning Objective 2: Discuss trends in low-income preschooler obesity/overweight, including health policies and interventions that may have affected trends.


This longitudinal prevalence study compares 2005 and 2010 overweight/obesity trends in representative samples of low-income Head Start preschoolers.

Significance: Child obesity is a significant global nursing issue because of its’ negative health consequences.

Framework: Child obesity is of concern to nurses due to the risk of early onset of obesity-related illnesses and the potential longevity of lifetime exposure to those illnesses. Approximately 21% of Mississippi Head Start (low-income) preschoolers are obese, compared to 14% for USA low-income preschoolers, and have many risk factors including obese family members, poverty, and low breastfeeding rates. Weight trend analyses are necessary for disease surveillance and health policy evaluation.


Chi-Square analyses were used to compare the 2005 (N=1250) and 2010 (N=1765) Body Mass Indexes of Mississippi Head Start preschoolers. Standardized measurement and analysis procedures were used in both of these two-stage stratified randomized probability design prevalence studies, which resulted in comparative, representative samples.


Chi-square analyses revealed that overall obesity rates between 2005 (20.6%) and 2010 (20.8%) had not changed, nor had the overall obesity rates between 2005 and 2010 for Black and White boys, or Black girls; however, White girls’ rates significantly declined from 2005 (23.5% versus 14.8%, p=0.04). Age group comparisons indicated declines in rates of 3-year-olds (20.3% versus 13.1%, p=0.05).

 Analyses for overall overweight rates indicated insignificant changes between 2005 (17.9%) and 2010 (17.0%). However, increases were found in White boys (8.5% versus 17.1%, p=0.04), and decreases were found in Black boys (19.6% versus 15.9%, p=0.05). Black and White girls had no significant changes.  


These findings, while indicating high obesity rates for Mississippi low-income preschoolers, mimic the trend toward stabilization of overall obesity/overweight rates noted in other USA preschool populations, and have implications for evaluation of health interventions and policy as well as further research.