Release Date: 07/06/2015

Childhood obesity is more prevalent among Hispanic children than children of other ethnic groups, a problem that has been steadily increasing in the United States over the past decade. An anthropologist and researcher with the Center for Primary Care and Prevention at Memorial Hospital, a Care New England hospital, is part of a team that conducted focus groups to best determine a plan for reducing risk factors for obesity in Hispanic children.

The study – entitled “Reducing Hispanic Children’s Obesity Risk Factors in the first 1,000 Days of Life: A Qualitative Analysis” – was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Obesity. Roberta Goldman, PhD, of Memorial, was one of its authors.

“According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), one in three Hispanic children is overweight or obese,” Dr. Goldman notes. “The obesity epidemic in Hispanic communities has become a crisis, and Hispanic children are becoming obese earlier in their lives than ever before.”

The researchers’ goal was to examine underlying reasons for early life obesity risk factors and identify potential early intervention strategies. Through seven focus groups gathering almost 50 pregnant or new mothers, the following reasons for early life obesity were identified:

  • Some mothers’ attempts to cope with the physical changes of pregnancy trumped healthy eating and physical activity, even among women who believe good nutrition and exercise are important.
  • Women believed excessive gestational weight gain negatively impacted their baby’s health, but they did not think it would lead to childhood obesity.
  • Women understood that chubby babies are not necessarily healthy, but did not connect that to later life obesity.
  • Mothers felt responsible for ensuring that their babies felt full. Fear of infant hunger can drive bottle use and the early introduction of solid foods.
  • Mothers felt compelled to offer early solids and sugary drinks based on their belief that their babies did not like anything else.
  • Mothers did not see the harm in television viewing, and some actually felt that screen time promotes infant learning and visual development.

In terms of possible interventions, Goldman says the study participants identified physicians and nutritionists as key resources, and many expressed interest in mobile technology and group or home visits.

“What we found is that there are opportunities to improve Hispanic mothers’ understanding of the role of early weight gain in childhood obesity and other obesity risk factors. This can be done in the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life,” the researchers explain in summation. “Interventions that link health care and public health systems, and include extended family, may help reduce obesity among Hispanic children.”

The Center for Primary Care and Prevention is dedicated to promoting research, knowledge enrichment, and improving practice in primary care and prevention. Research conducted by its faculty members aims to help providers in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of various illnesses.


About Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island

Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is a 294-bed hospital that serves as the major teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the chief site for the medical school's primary care academic program. Research focuses on primary care and disease prevention, including osteoarthritis, heart disease, cancer, pulmonary function, maternal and child health and women’s health issues.


Memorial provides a full spectrum of health services for the people of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Services include oncology, cardiovascular, rehabilitation, pain management, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, 24-hour intensive care specialist coverage and diagnostics. Memorial offers primary care services in Pawtucket, Central Falls and Plainville, Massachusetts, an adult day center, and home care program to provide a seamless system of medical care.

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Childhood Obesity