Starting early is the key to easing the trajectory of childhood obesity, new study finds
A new study has shown that early education and support for pregnant women and parents could be key to combating rising rates of obesity in Australian children. The findings will be of interest to those who work supporting children and families prenatally, and to those who are interested in the treatment and prevention of childhood obesity.
Led by the University of Sydney’s Clinical Trials Centre, researchers undertook the project based on increasing concerns about childhood obesity, with almost one in four children in Australia being overweight or obese by the time they start school, setting the child on a lifelong trajectory of obesity and poor health.
“Our study shows that early intervention from pregnancy up until two years of age reduced unhealthy weight gains in the children at age two, as well as leading to improvements in feeding and breastfeeding practices,” Lead investigator, Professor Lisa Askie said.
The study, published in Pediatric Obesity, is the first of its kind to focus on very early education for parents prior to birth or within the first few months of the life of their child.
“Childhood obesity is a major health issue, particularly among Australia’s more disadvantaged populations. There are many different and varied interventions to help, but evidence suggests a child’s habits and behaviours form early,” Professor Askie noted.
The research team brought together four Australian and New Zealand trials studying early intervention in a total of over 2,000 children. The trials agreed to collect the same measures of childhood obesity, weight and habits associated with later obesity, so their data could be combined. This led to the creation of the world’s largest database on early childhood obesity prevention to date.
“The idea is to set children on a positive weight trajectory early on by forming good habits that can prevent overweight and obesity in later childhood,” added Professor Askie.
While evidence for early intervention is good news for childhood obesity prevention, questions still exist around which interventions work best and the best way to deliver them for different socio-economic groups. Current interventions, such as at-home nurse visits or community health centre support groups, are mostly a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
To answer these questions, Professor Askie and her team were recently awarded funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council for a follow-up study that aims to open up the ‘black box’ of interventions.
The study will collect data from more than 25 trials and over 8,500 participants to determine which interventions and delivery types work best for different populations. Data will be collected and analysed from many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Guatemala, Spain, China, and the Netherlands.
To access the study in full, please see here.