Evidence from recent studies has determined that factors such as environmental and economic background play as much a role in obesity risk as genetic susceptibility and behavior. A recent study conducted at Concordia University revealed that people from low-income families usually turn to unhealthy weight-loss methods such as diet pills and skipping meals, while people from higher-income families adhere to healthy dieting and exercise.

“The message of how to lose weight according to national guidelines may not resonate with those who struggle to pay their bills,” Lisa Kakinami, researcher with Concordia’s PERFORM Centre and the lead author on the study, said in a statement “The inclination to reduce fat or sweets, exercise or drink more water was lower in lower-income households compared to the highest-income households.”

Kakinami and her colleagues recruited over 3,000 children and teens between the ages of 8 and 19 as well as over 5,000 adults over the age of 20 for a total of 8,000 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. The research team weighed each participant, assessed their annual household income, and decided who were more inclined to comply with healthy weight-loss recommendations such exercising, drinking water, or reducing the amount of fat and sugar in their diet. They also observed who relied on unhealthy weight-loss recommendations such as fasting, skipping meals, or using diet pills.

After adjusting for gender, age, ethnicity, and whether they were obese or overweight, researchers found that people from lower-income backgrounds are less likely to utilize national guidelines for weight loss, including healthy dieting and exercise compared to those from higher-income backgrounds. Instead, they turned to fasting, skipping meals, and diet pills, which tend to be counterproductive in the long run. While being unable to afford a gym membership or special dieting plan are often considered obvious explanations as to why obesity rates for low-income children and adults seem to be getting higher each year, the research team said it goes beyond the matter of a bigger bank account.

”Overall, the results suggest there may be a preference toward methods that provide the feeling of instant results — which end up being harmful in the long run, if they work at all,” Kakinami added. “Perhaps all the studies that have been done about weight are becoming muddled in people’s minds. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and evaluate what people know and understand about obesity and weight-loss.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past three decades in the United States. Results of the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among U.S. high school students, 15 percent did not participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity on any given day, 14 percent did not eat breakfast, 11 percent preferred soda to water, and 33 percent watched TV for three or more hours a day. The 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health revealed that families with a lower income are usually home to more overweight and obese children.

Source: Paradis G, Barnett T, Gauvin L, Kakinami L. Trying to lose weight: the association of income and age to weight-loss strategies in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2014.