Children of migrant farmworkers represent a vulnerable population with limited resources and access to healthcare. Childhood obesity, a major nationwide issue, disproportionately affects minority and poor children. Our objective was to determine the prevalence of obesity among children of migrant farmworkers in south Georgia.
We measured heights and weights and calculated the body mass index (BMI) of 114 pediatric patients seen in mobile migrant farmworker clinics in June of 2011. We then calculated the BMI percentile for age and gender to determine how many were overweight (85-85th percentile) and obese (>95th percentile). We collected data on children from age 2 - 18 years. We compared BMI data among male versus female patients, between ethnicities, and between age groups.
One third (33%) of the patients we saw were between 2 and 5 years old, 44% were between age 6-10, and the remainder (23%) were between age 11-18. 60% of the patients were male and 40% were female. 75% of the patients were Latino, and the rest were Haitian. There were 8 patients for whom no ethnicity data was obtained.
There were 24 patients who were overweight, which represented 21% of the total. An additional 33 patients were obese, representing 29% of the total. Thus, 51% of our patients were overweight or obese. Only one patient had a BMI less than the 5thpercentile for age (underweight).
Overweight and obesity rates were fairly similar between age groups, with the highest rate among the patients ages 2-5 years (60% overweight and obese) compared with 42% of those age 6-10 years and 54% of those age 11-18 years. Of the male patients we saw, 47% were overweight or obese, compared to 57% of the female patients. The overweight/obesity rate among Latino patients was 56%, compared to 39% of Haitian patients.
Childhood obesity is a major problem among the migrant farmworker patient population we saw during this project. There are many potential reasons for this, including cultural differences; poverty and associated poor nutrition with cheap, high-calorie foods; and sedentary lifestyle among children due to a lack of safe outdoor play spaces. Potential interventions could include family-based nutritional counseling, school-based programs that involve physical activity, and improving access to healthy foods for these families. Any intervention will need to be culturally appropriate, and take into account the limitation of resources that is a fact of life among migrant farm workers.