Childhood poverty dynamics and overweight in early and middle adulthood

Miao Li, Purdue University


Driven by several life course models as well as the cumulative inequality theory, this dissertation examined how the temporal dynamics of poverty during childhood shape overweight and obese risk in early and middle adulthood. Analyses were based on longitudinal data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Within a growth mixture model framework, a latent categorical variable was constructed to capture distinctive childhood poverty trajectories based on yearly poverty data from age 0 to 16. The latent poverty trajectory variable was predicted by covariates in a multinomial logistic regression model. Overweight status (Body Mass Index >=25), obesity status (Body Mass Index >=30), and raw scores of Body Mass Index in adulthood were predicted respectively by the latent variable along with other control variables in a logistic regression model. Growth mixture model identified four poverty trajectories in childhood: the stably poor, early childhood poverty, early childhood nonpoor but with downward mobility, and stably nonpoor. Risks of adulthood overweight and obesity were higher among children exposed to poverty in early childhood compared to children stably out of poverty, and were comparable to stably poor children. Upward social mobility following early childhood poverty did not result in a reduction of overweight or obesity risks in adulthood, suggesting an irreversible impact of early childhood poverty. For children who were free from poverty in their early childhood, even subsequent downward mobility did not significantly increase their risk for adult overweight or obesity, compared to those who were stably nonpoor. The same pattern holds in predicting adult raw score of Body Mass Index. Based on these findings, I conclude that 1) early childhood poverty is as impactful on adult overweight/obesity risk as chronic poverty; and 2) upward social mobility may not undo damages incurred by early childhood poverty exposure. Theoretical and practical implications were discussed at the end of this dissertation.




Anderson, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Public health|Sociology|Epidemiology

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