Researchers examine factors in childhood obesity

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Researchers examine factors in childhood obesity

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Published on 24 March 2014

University of the Sunshine Coast Psychology research into obesity in infants and toddlers has found that a mother’s nutrition knowledge has no effect on her, or her child’s, weight.

USC student Chelsea Sutherland’s recently-completed Honours research found that the only factors significantly affecting a young child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) were socioeconomic status and breastfeeding.

“The prevalence of overweight Australian infants and toddlers is rising, combined with a declining age of onset. Infant and toddler obesity is also highly predictive of adolescent and adulthood obesity,” she said.

“We wanted to examine the factors contributing to the early onset of obesity, which is a public health problem with many adverse health consequences.”

The study of 162 mothers aged 19 to 46 and 170 children aged one to four found more than one in three mothers and one in five toddlers were overweight, some to obese levels.

Ms Sutherland, 23, of Diddillibah, said a protective effect of breastfeeding was evident, with babies who were breastfed recording significantly lower BMIs than those who were not.

“On the negative side, the lower the mother’s socioeconomic status, the higher the child’s BMI,” she said.

Ms Sutherland and her supervisor, USC Lecturer in Psychology Dr Rachael Sharman, were surprised to discover that maternal nutrition knowledge did not have any effect on the BMI of the mothers and/or their infants.

“The majority of mothers understood the recommended Australian healthy eating guidelines and displayed a good level of nutrition knowledge, but their knowledge was not translated into healthy behaviours,” Ms Sutherland said.

“This was a surprising finding in relation to the way healthy lifestyles are promoted and highlights the importance of the effect of socioeconomic status.”

She hoped the findings of her study could be used to help reduce the risk of obesity in young children.

“We need to better understand the specific factors of socioeconomic status that promote child obesity; whether that’s income, education, occupation or location,” she said.

Julie Schomberg

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