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Community Health Data Base
An Information Service of the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation

Risk of Obesity Among Asian Children in SEPA
Thursday. March 3, 2005


In the United States, as well as in Southeastern Pennsylvania, obesity is an emergent health problem among both adults and children.  Nationally, three out of ten adults are obese (31%) and three out of ten children are at risk of obesity (30%)1.  Obesity increases one’s risk of developing life-threatening health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, and can adversely affect one’s quality of life.  Particular subgroup populations are at higher risk for obesity including certain minority groups. 

Using data from the Community Health Data Base’s 2004 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey, the following article examines the risk of obesity among Asian children in the region and explores selected lifestyle characteristics such as poor nutrition, high screen time, and lack of exercise among Asian children that may have an impact upon this growing population group.  

Risk of Obesity Among Asian Children in SEPA

In Southeastern Pennsylvania, the percentage of Asian children who are at-risk for obesity is now nearly as high as the risk among non-Asian children (36.4% vs. 41.3%). This is strikingly different than compared to the percentage of Asian adults who are obese; only 4.3% of Asian adults are obese which is significantly lower than the percentage of white (20.5%), black (33.1%) and Latino (26.6%) adults who are obese.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) for age percentile is used to calculate a child’s risk of obesity.  This measure incorporates the child’s age and gender into the equation in addition to their height and weight.  Children who are in the 85th percentile or higher for their BMI for age percentile are considered at-risk for obesity. 
·  In Southeastern Pennsylvania, 36.4% of Asian children 2-17 years of age old are at-risk of obesity.  This percentage represents more than 11,850 Asian children who are currently at-risk of obesity.  This is similar to the percentage for white children (37.6%) but is lower than the percentage for African American (47.7%) or Latino (55.6%) children.    (See Figure 1)
·  Asian boys in SEPA are more likely to be at-risk of obesity than Asian girls in the region. (40.1% vs. 32.3%).  This pattern holds true for all children in the region.   (See Figure 2) 
·  Younger Asian children are more likely to be at-risk of obesity than older Asian children; more than half (53.4%) of Asian children 2-9 years of age are currently at- risk for obesity compared to 18.9% of Asian children 10-17 years of age.  This is also true among non-Asian children in the region.  (See Figure 2)
·  Asian children in Philadelphia are more likely to be at risk of obesity than Asian children who live in the suburban counties.  In Philadelphia, more than half (51.1%) of Asian children are at-risk for obesity compared to less than three in ten (28.2%) Asian children in the suburban counties.

Exercise and Nutrition Among Asian Children in SEPA:
When examining obesity among children it is important for one to examine lifestyle factors that may contribute to this outcome including lack of exercise and “high screen time.”  Screen time is defined as time spent watching television, playing video games or using the computer.  High screen time is associated with a more sedentary lifestyle and excess snacking. 
·  Children in SEPA spend an average of 2.75 hours per day of screen time, equaling an average of 19 hours of screen time per week.  Screen time is equally high among Asian and non-Asian children.
·  Overall, 46% of children in SEPA exercise less than 7 times per week.  Among Asian children, 57% exercise less than 7 times per week. 
·  Asian children who exercise regularly through participation in an organized sport are less likely to be at risk of obesity than children who do not participate in an organized sport (29.3% vs. 42.7%).  However, less than half of Asian children in the region were involved in an organized sport in the past year (45.9%), as compared to 63% of non-Asian children.

In addition to lack of exercise, poor dietary or nutritional choices may also contribute to the high percentage of Asian children in the region who are now at-risk of obesity.
·  In SEPA, only one out of ten Asian children eat the recommended 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day (10.4%).   More than half of all Asian children do not eat three or more servings per day (52.4%).
·  One out of six Asian children eat fast food three or more times per week (16.2%), and 36.9% eat fast food at least twice a week.

Reducing the Risk of Obesity
In the past year, only one in five Asian children who are at-risk of obesity were advised by a health professional to lose weight (21.2%).  This lack of dialogue between health professionals and Asian parents about obesity, nutrition and exercise can contribute to poorer lifestyle behaviors and health outcomes.   In addition, because of potential language and cultural barriers, many Asian individuals may not understand what is being suggested to them. To help reduce the risk of obesity among Asian children, health professionals need to be aware of these potential barriers during routine examinations and spend time educating parents and guardians on the importance of healthy lifestyle behaviors. 

For more information:
To further investigate this and other factors influencing the health of the Asian community in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Community Health Data Base is organizing an Asian Health Seminar to be held this spring.  Please visit the Community Health Data Base website for more information on our upcoming Asian Health Forum:

For more information on risk of obesity among Asian children, please contact Diana Levengood at (215) 731-2039 or

1. National Center for Health Statitistics.


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