Research and commentary

Using research to inform obesity reduction strategies

Working with families for the benefit of each child is central to tackling obesity

Mihrshahi S, Drayton B, Bauman A et al (2018) Associations between childhood overweight, obesity, abdominal obesity and obesogenic behaviors and practices in Australian homes. BMC Public Health. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4595-y

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To examine the possible influence of parenting practices on obesity in children to identify who are at higher risk and if socio-demographic factors are associated with obesogenic practices.  


This was a cross-sectional survey undertaken in Australia. The sample was 3,884 children and 3,671 young people, aged 5-16, from 84 schools. Data collected included body measurements, such as abdominal girth. The children’s parents completed questionnaires about family eating habits and linked behaviour, such as eating breakfast and average time spent using screens. The young people also completed questionnaires. The questions derived from a recognised questionnaire on feeding children. Demographic information was also collected, which meant that socio-economic factors could be considered when data were interpreted.


Children and young people who do not eat breakfast are more likely to be overweight. Not eating breakfast has a higher positive association with increased height-to-waist ratio. Having a TV in a child’s bedroom increases the likelihood of obesity. A lack of rules on screen time and using sweets as rewards increases the chances of obesity. The risks of obesity increases among some children from socially disadvantaged or non-English speaking backgrounds. There were also some indications that there is a difference in gender, whereby teenage girls are more likely to skip breakfast and boys are more likely to have imposed screen times.


Planning interventions to reduce obesity in children should take into consideration the factors raised in this study. A combined approach of body measurements, including abdominal girth and patterns of behaviour, should be employed when planning interventions. It should also be recognised that risk factors in childhood may differ from those in adolescence. Children from socially disadvantaged or non-English speaking backgrounds may be at a higher risk, which may warrant a more focused approach.  

Reasons for childhood obesity are linked to homes and families

Childhood obesity is known to be an increasing problem in the UK, with one third of children being overweight or obese. This means that those who work with children and young people have regular contact with those affected by what some term as an epidemic in waiting. NHS England’s policy, Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action, sets out a ten-year plan to address this, but makes clear that this is more of a starting point than a complete strategy (Knai and Petticrew 2016).

It can be argued that all health and social care professionals who work with children and their families need to have an insight about which children may be at higher risk of obesity. Although some of the issues raised by Mihrshahi et al (2018) are already known, their context – the home environment – is important too. The authors reminds us that the reasons for childhood obesity are complex and are usually linked with family circumstances. This means that working with families for the benefit of each child is central to tackling this issue.



About the author

Compiled by Theresa Pengelly, senior lecturer in children and young people’s nursing, Coventry University, on behalf of the RCN’s Research in Child Health community

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