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Obesity, Diet and Children
Role of Diet and Eating in Childhood Obesity
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Obesity, Diet and Children

The role of diet in the current increase in obesity in young children is unclear. Basic information about the feeding of young children is available in government publications about weaning and dietary reference values.

Weight Loss Study 1946 & 1990's
Studies have been carried out to monitor diet cross-sectionally in the population by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS). Longitudinal studies such as 1946 cohort study have followed people from all over Britain from birth. A comparison of information collected from 1946 cohort, when they were aged 4 in 1950, with dietary data collected on 4-year-olds in the 1990s, by NDNS, shows some major differences in foods eaten. Energy intake was lower in 1990s, the children ate much less bread but much more confectionery and soft drinks.

Weight Loss Study Bristol, UK
A contemporary cohort study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is being carried out in Bristol. Women living in the area were recruited in pregnancy (14,000) in 1991 and 1992. They and their children have been followed ever since. Almost 8,000 of the children were weighed and measured at age 7. When compared to national centile charts for BMI, 8.1 percent were defined as obese significantly more than the 5 percent expected. Obesity was higher in groups with the least educated mothers.

ALSPAC has collected detailed dietary information on a 10 percent sub-sample of the children by 3-day unweighed dietary records. At 18 months of age the recommended feeding patterns were not achieved by everyone. For example some children were not eating fruit and vegetables. By 43 months even fewer were eating vegetables and there was a large increase in sugary foods eaten. Maternal education level was related to the types of foods eaten by the child. This is particularly evident in amount of fruit eaten at 18 months. This increased as education increased. The amount of money spent on food was also important.

Was the amount of fat in the diet a key factor? The children were divided into three fat intake groups according to energy contribution from fat. Energy intake was lowest and vitamin C and iron intake highest in the low fat group. There was no difference in growth or obesity between the groups. However other health measures were better in the low fat group.

Some prudent dietary changes are recommended although they are not necessarily related to obesity development. Health professionals have a role especially in encouraging the less educated mothers to follow best practice.

Source: Dr Pauline Emmett, Research Nutritionist/Dietitian, Department of Child Health, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

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