Researchers present research on preventing obesity in early years
The Sector > Research > Researchers present research on preventing obesity in early years

Researchers present research on preventing obesity in early years

by Freya Lucas

October 22, 2019

World-leading public health researchers gathered in Melbourne yesterday for the commencement of the 11th World Congress on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, presenting the latest research into the most effective ways to prevent children from gaining excessive weight in the first few years of life.


An interesting finding prevalent in the discussions was that while physical activity and a healthy diet are unarguably important for long-term health, researchers are now seeing the benefits of good sleep in the first two years of life on a child’s weight.


With over 41 million children under the age of five years being overweight and obese worldwide, and with children living with being overweight or obese being more likely to have asthma, sleep problems, type 2 diabetes, lower self-esteem and emotional problems compared to children of healthy weight, the research findings are of increasing interest to those working with children and families in early childhood education and care (ECEC). 


Public health experts and health economists from Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, UK, and Norway will present research during the Congress, exploring effective ways to prevent children from gaining excess weight early in life.


Professor Rachael Taylor, from the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre at the University of Otago New Zealand, presented findings from the Prevention of Overweight in Infancy (POI) trial, exploring which intervention is the most successful to target for preventing child weight gain: diet, activity or sleep.


Professor Taylor’s study involved 802 pregnant women, who were enrolled in the study and were randomised to receive either a traditional food and activity program or a novel sleep intervention for the first two years of their child’s life. This sleep intervention involved a group education session in late pregnancy outlining what to expect of their baby’s and their own sleep in the first few months of life and where to seek help.


Researchers then visited the new mums in their homes when their baby was three weeks old, to provide advice and strategies that responded to each mother’s individual needs. Parents were asked if they would like more help or advice when their baby was six months old.


At age 3.5 years, children who had received the sleep intervention were half as likely to be obese as the other children in the study. This finding was still evident when the children were measured again at five years of age.


“Sleep appears to be a very successful and suitable way to prevent early childhood obesity, particularly at this age when children’s diet and activity are changing all the time,” Professor Taylor explained.


The biennial World Congress is being held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 20th-23rd October 2019. Approximately 1,000 delegates from around the world will attend the Congress.

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