Childhood obesity: Is ethnicity a better predictor than socioeconomic status?


According to the WHO, childhood obesity is one of the most serious Public Health challenges of the 21st century. As obesity (and its consequences like type 2 diabetes) are largely preventable, preventing it is (or should be) of high priority.

In order f0r such interventions to be more effective, it is useful to study its predictors. In a study we recently published, the authors sought to investigate not only the prevalence of obesity, overweight and thinness in Australian schoolchildren, but also their relationship to socioeconomic status and ethnic cultural groups.

Data was used from national surveys in 2006 and 2012, including more than 20,000 patients in total. The main results can be summarized as follows:

  •  The prevalence of obesity was 7.5% for boys and 7.1% for girls in 2006 and 5.8% for boys and 5.6% for girls in 2012.
  • The prevalence of overweight was 17.7% in 2006 and 18.9% in 2012 in boys and 18.5% in 2006 and 18.7% in 2012 in girls.
  • Prevalence rates for thinness were 3.8% for boys and 4.6% for girls in 2006 and 5.0 for boys and 6.0& for girls in 2012.
  • Children of low socioeconomic status were about 2.2 times more likely to be obese both in 2006 and 2012
  • Thinness was more ethnic and gender based: Children from Asian, Indian and African origin were more susceptible to thinness in both time points.
  • For children from African origin, however, the risk of thinness decreased in 2012, while their risk for obesity increased. This might demonstrate an acculturation effect, with those children adopting a more westernised way of eating.
  • Greater obesity was observed in Pacific Islander, Polynesian, Middle Eastern, Southern European and Aboriginal children. These groups might be susceptible to future health risks, such as type 2 diabetes. Considering the higher risk for type 2 diabetes in some of these ethnic groups (Polynesian, Aboriginals, Africans) shows the further need for obesity prevention interventions in those groups.
  • There is a consistent gender difference both in obesity and thinness.

The authors conclude that interventions should be culturally appropriate, targeting socially and economically disadvantaged communities.

How is it in your country? Are there any obesity prevention interventions for children you are aware of? And do they take into account culture, ethnicity and socioeconomic level?



*This paper was written by Jennifer A. O’Dea and Michael J. Dibley

** Picture credit

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