Queensland researchers have found that different factors are linked to obesity in boys and girls of different ages.
Take-away food consumption was strongly associated with obesity in boys, while parents’ marital status was strongly associated with obesity in girls.
Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute examined Queensland Health data collected from two surveys conducted in 2009 and 2011, which gathered information about more than 3,500 children. Parents answered questions about their socio-economic circumstances and their children’s height, weight, diet and lifestyle.
The study found that nine per cent of Queensland children aged between five and 17 were obese. This compared with seven per cent of children nationally in 2011-12. Among children aged five to 11, 12 per cent of boys and 11 per cent of girls were obese. Among children aged 12 to 17, seven per cent of boys and four per cent of girls were obese.
The researchers found that obese children were significantly more likely to live in disadvantaged areas; have less-educated, single or unemployed parents; consume take away foods at least twice per week; not have participated in organised sport in the past week; and watch at least two hours of television daily.
QIMR Berghofer senior biostatistician Professor Peter O’Rourke said the research team examined which of those factors were most strongly associated with obesity in young and adolescent boys and girls.
“In the boys aged between five and 11, the factors that were strongly associated with obesity were parents’ level of education, take away food consumption and lack of participation in organised sport,” Professor O’Rourke said.
“In this younger age group, boys whose parents were not university educated were more than twice as likely to be obese as boys whose parents were. Boys who ate takeaway food two or more times per week were nearly two and a half times more likely to be obese as those who did not. And boys who did not participate in organised sport were almost twice as likely to be obese as those who did.”
Takeaway food included pre-prepared or fried foods such as burgers, pizza, sausage rolls and chips.
“Similarly, in boys aged 12 to 17 parental education and takeaway food consumption were associated with obesity, although a lack of participation in organised sport was not,” Professor O’Rourke said.
“In girls aged five to 11, we found the factors associated with obesity were parents’ level of education and marital status. Younger girls with single parents were more than twice as likely to be obese as girls living in two-parent households.
“Girls aged 12 to 17 whose parents were not university educated were significantly more likely to be obese than those whose parents were. These girls were also three times more likely to be obese if they were from a single-parent household, and more than twice as likely to be obese if they did not regularly participate in organised sport.
“We do not know why girls from single-parent households are more likely to be obese. More research is needed in this area.
“Knowing which factors are associated with obesity in boys and girls of different ages is crucial because it will help policy makers to develop effective age and gender-specific strategies to tackle childhood obesity.”
Professor O’Rourke said it was important for parents to focus on the factors they could control.
“Childhood obesity is a major public health issue because it is likely to continue into adulthood,” he said.
“While some factors are beyond parents’ control, some of the best things they can do are encouraging regular exercise, providing a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and minimising takeaway food.
“If parents are unsure about the healthiest options for their kids, there is a lot of information available at https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/.”
The findings of the study have been published in the journal Public Health.