Community, family and individual factors influencing adolescent obesity: mediating role of parental health and the social and mental health consequences of obesity in young adulthood

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Merten, Michael
Major Professor
K. A. S. Wickrama
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies focuses on the interactions among individuals, families, and their resources and environments throughout their lifespans. It consists of three majors: Child, Adult, and Family Services (preparing students to work for agencies serving children, youth, adults, and families); Family Finance, Housing, and Policy (preparing students for work as financial counselors, insurance agents, loan-officers, lobbyists, policy experts, etc); and Early Childhood Education (preparing students to teach and work with young children and their families).


The Department of Human Development and Family Studies was formed in 1991 from the merger of the Department of Family Environment and the Department of Child Development.

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  • College of Human Sciences (parent college)
  • Department of Child Development (predecessor)
  • Department of Family Environment (predecessor)

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This study explores both factors influencing obesity among adolescents as well as social and mental health consequences of obesity in young adulthood. Specifically this study investigates the influence of structural community adversity, family, and individual factors on parental general physical health and adolescent obesity. The findings generally support the hypothesized additive and multiplicative association of these factors with parental physical health outcomes and adolescent obesity. Community and family disadvantages uniquely influence the risk of poor general physical health among parents. Poor parental general health in turn is associated with adolescent obesity. Findings also suggest that the influence of community adversity on parental general physical health is more pronounced for Whites compared to any other ethnic group. Family characteristics and individual characteristics, such as physical activity and inactivity as well as adolescent eating behaviors were significant contributors to adolescent obesity, independent of structural community adversity. Structural community adversity, family, and individual level influences on parental physical health and adolescent obesity emphasize the need for intervention programs to support disadvantaged youth and their families. In addition to the community, family and individual level predictors of obesity, this study investigates the seldom studied educational, economic, and social consequences that obese adolescents encounter as they become young adults. The findings support the notion that being obese/overweight during adolescence has a detrimental influence on a wide range of non-physical life domains. Obese/overweight adolescents are at an increased risk for a lower level of educational attainment and involvement in early sexual activities than normal weight adolescents. In addition, obese/overweight adolescents have higher levels of economic hardship and depressive symptoms in young adulthood. However, results indicate that the influence of adolescent obesity/overweight is moderated by gender. Specifically, males do not suffer the educational, economic, and social detrimental effects of obesity/overweight to the same degree as females. Obese/overweight females suffer much more than obese/overweight males in terms of societal outcomes. In addition, detrimental consequences of obesity on social outcomes also vary by ethnicity, with obese Whites being most susceptible.

Sat Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2005