Researchers have long blamed childhood obesity and diabetes, especially in poor neighborhoods, on too much food and too little exercise.
But new findings from a San Antonio study point to another explanation: children living in poverty are obese in part because they don’t eat enough to meet the daily nutritional requirements needed for cell function and metabolism.
A 9-year-old should consume 1,400 to 2,200 calories daily to sustain their growth, said Dr. Roberto Trevino, director of the Social and Health Research Center, a nonprofit organization. But in the study of 1,400 inner-city children, 44 percent were consuming less than 1,400 calories, and 33 percent were obese.
"They were not overeating," Trevino said. "This study shows these kids were not eating enough, and when they did eat it was all the wrong things."
Missing from the children’s diets were four key nutrients: calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. All play important roles, but magnesium is involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body that help to spur metabolism and cell function.
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When magnesium — found in cooked spinach, black beans, bran cereal and other foods — is missing from the diet, it can predispose an individual to diabetes, Trevino said.
Nearly 7 percent of children in the study screened positive for type 2 diabetes, typically an adult disease, Trevino said.
Without early-age intervention, these children could be facing open-heart surgery at age 25 and will be on dialysis by age 35, he said.