Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Janet R. Hankin


Purpose: The purpose of the study was to expand the understanding of childhood obesity in American children by examining the associations between obesity in children and measures of social capital.

Context: Persons between 2 and 20 years of age are categorized as "obese" if their BMI is in 95th percentile or above for their age and sex using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) BMI-for-age growth charts. Obesity prevalence has more than quadrupled in the last 40 years in the United States for children. Social capital, in the study of health, can be defined as resources accrued and/or accessed from social relationships/social bonds at multiple levels including the individual, family, neighborhood, community or nation.

Methods: The research quantitatively analyzed the associations between the likelihood of childhood obesity and BMI with personal social capital, family social capital and neighborhood social capital using regression analysis. A dataset for the study was created for the 10,018 10 and 11 year olds for whom height and weight was available from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health.

Results: The study population had an obesity prevalence of 20.4. Logistic and OLS multiple regression models were employed for hypotheses testing. Eleven indicators were categorized as measures of personal social capital, family social capital or neighborhood social capital. The regression models clearly identified many individually significant measures of social capital but their (the regression models) were weak in their predictive power. Five individual indicators of social capital were particularly noteworthy for having consistently significant associations with the likelihood of obesity and BMI throughout the research. These include type of school (private or public), moving, number of siblings, parents knowing friends and participating in activities outside of school.

Conclusions: Indicators of social capital were associated with childhood obesity in a nationally representative sample of 10 and 11 year old children. The research supports the idea that the study of children's social capital (personal, family and neighborhood) is a viable way to expand the understanding of the pathways behind the social patterning of childhood obesity in the United States.