After five years, a longitudinal study into childhood obesity involving more than 400 families and led by chief investigator Dr Susan Byrne at The University of Western Australia’s School of Psychology and the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research is showing an important trend – and raising a difficult question.
"It is becoming apparent that the best way to help overweight children regain a healthy weight is by involving their mothers, fathers and, ideally, even their siblings, in treatment," Dr Byrne said.
"But the question still is, how do we engage parents and families in treatment, especially when often the parents of obese children are themselves overweight? In fact, our research has found the strongest predictor of childhood obesity to be maternal overweight.
"We know that many parents struggle with issues of time and resources. It takes time to drive children to sport and resources to involve them, as sport can be expensive. It takes time and money to shop for and to prepare healthy meals. And for parents to be involved in managing their own weight when their lives are busy takes a big commitment.
"We are now trying to find the key to involving whole families in solving this problem."
Dr Byrne said her team’s research aims to provide a true cost analysis of the burden of overweight and obesity in primary school-aged children and is applying a focus to the consumer and community aspects of the problem.
"These are essential pre-requisites for developing targeted, cost-effective and acceptable prevention and intervention strategies, because this will enable us to choose the right strategy for particular circumstances, thus conserving resources that might otherwise be expended on applying a blanket strategy that might have little chance of success."
(Source: University of Western Australia: July 2008)