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Youth obesity rising faster among poor, study says

CHICAGO -- Older American teenagers living in poverty have grown fatter at a higher rate than their peers, according to research that seems to underscore the unequal burden of obesity on the nation's poor.

``Today the percentage of adolescents age 15 to 17 who are overweight is about 50 percent higher in poor as compared to non poor families, a difference that has emerged recently," said Richard Miech, a Johns Hopkins sociologist and the study's lead author.

Obesity rates among all teens climbed substantially during the study, which covered 30 years. But the great divide according to income occurred most notably among the 15- to 17-year-old age group.

The study appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. It is based on data from 10,800 youngsters ages 12 to 17 who participated in four health surveys conducted from 1971 to 2004.

Economic differences have been linked to other health problems, too, including AIDS and some cancers. The disproportionate rates reflect that wealthier people seek medical care and make lifestyle changes, while the poor do not, said Barry Popkin, a nutrition scientist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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