Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Darna L Dufour

Second Advisor

Herbert C Covert

Third Advisor

Michelle Linda Sauther


The relatively recent increase in obesity among children in the United States has become of interest to researchers. In the past 10 to 15 years, research has typically focused on “at risk” populations, health outcomes and potential causes of obesity. As a result, the prevalence, associated disease risks, and potential causes of obesity have been well documented. Poor diet quality, high energy intake (primarily from sweetened beverages and fast food) and low physical activity levels have all been linked childhood obesity. Despite this large body of literature, few studies have focused on the biocultural aspects of childhood obesity, especially among children living in rural parts of the western United States. This study took a biocultural approach to childhood obesity in The San Luis Valley; a low income, rural region in south-central Colorado, with a high prevalence of obesity and chronic disease (e.g. type II diabetes). While there have been epidemiological studies in the Valley, until recently, the majority have focused on adults. This study used both qualitative (observations and interviews) and quantitative data (anthropometry, dietary intake and physical activity monitor data) to examine the role of household, community and school environments in developing dietary and physical activity patterns among elementary school children (7-12 years of age) in the Valley. The percentage of overweight/obese children in the study sample was higher than the state average. There was no association between being overweight or obese and diet, but there was between being overweight or obese and low physical activity levels. Some results were similar to studies in other parts of the United States, while results were not. Finally, this study highlighted the importance of both qualitative and quantitative data in understanding the local social, cultural and environmental contexts within which obesity develops among some populations.