Preschooler obesity factors examined

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014

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Attention is turning to preschoolers in the effort to combat childhood obesity.

Parents' views of the risk factors will be the focus of University of Waikato student Julie Chatwin's research, so she is seeking parents worried about their preschooler's weight.

About one in nine Kiwi children aged 2-14 years are obese, according to the most recent New Zealand Health Survey.

A further one in four children were overweight.

The proportions were of concern for Chatwin, who is completing her Master of Social Sciences concurrently with a Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology (Clinical).

"It [childhood obesity] seems to be an increasing concern at a younger age . . . The statistics are showing that there's an increasing trend at a younger age towards the overweight or obese BMI (body mass index) in particular," she said.

Looking at weight management at an earlier age - or before it became a problem - seemed to be a priority, hence her research on how parents saw the risk factors.

"I would be expecting that possibly a lot of preschooler parents don't recognise an unhealthy weight in their child, or don't feel that it's a problem yet, or may feel that the child will grow out of it."

A lack of physical activity - or too much "screen time" - and rewarding children with food were among the signs to watch out for, she said.

Chatwin's interest in healthy lifestyles for children led her to the Waikato's Bodywise programme for very overweight 5 to 12-year-olds and their families. Bodywise involves parents and children to teach them about healthy lifestyle habits - including activity choices and how to read food labels.

Sport Waikato and Waikids (Waikato DHB) run the programme, and the team suggested Chatwin look into the preschool age group.

She is now working with them to adapt Bodywise for preschoolers, to be called Toolkit 4 Tamariki.

"It [the research] will help us really understand what is different about the preschooler population when we're talking about this issue."

Chatwin is still looking for parents who are concerned about their preschooler's weight to interview.

Participants will share their story, then complete a card-sorting exercise on risk factors and will be given a $25 petrol voucher in compensation.

Contact jls57@students.waikato.ac.nz or 021 067 6593.

HOW DO WE WEIGH?

Adults (15+) Obese 31 per cent Overweight 34 per cent Children (2-14) Obese 11 per cent Overweight 22 per cent Source: 2012/13 New Zealand Health Survey 

libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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