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03 October 2019

girl eating friesAs Australians head into the holiday season, the focus for many is on family, food, and more ominously, the inevitable weight gain that accompanies a burgeoning social calendar.

In a world-first study by the University of South Australia, researchers will track changes in weight, activity and diet of parents and their children, seeking to identify higher risk time-periods for weight gain and the most critical moments for intervention.

The study aims to address Australia’s obesity crisis, where nearly two-thirds of adults and almost a quarter of children are overweight or obese. Excess weight and obesity are major risk factors for chronic health conditions and have an estimated annual cost to the healthcare system of $21 billion.

Out of the 34 OECD countries, Australia’s obesity rate ranks 5th highest and has shown strong growth over the past 10 years.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Carol Maher says understanding the seasonal triggers for weight gain in Australia is crucial in developing targeted and effective obesity programs.

“Studies suggest that Australian adults tend to gain about 0.5kg per year, but how and when they gain this weight is not really understood,” Assoc Prof Maher says.

“Seasons, work patterns, and special events – like school holidays, Easter, or Christmas – certainly contribute to weight gain. But to date, most research has been based in the US or Europe, which doesn’t reflect Australia’s lifestyle or culture.

“Australia has a unique climate – harsh summers and relatively mild winters – which affect how people eat and exercise.

“Australia’s obesity rates have continued to skyrocket over the past decade, which suggests we need a solution that is specific to our environment and lifestyle.”

The study will leverage a one-off opportunity, only possible in 2019, to recruit parents of children in an existing NHMRC-funded cohort study examining children’s weight gain, Life on Holidays, to track and compare the weight, activity and diets of adults with their children over a 12-month period.

Assoc Prof Maher says this unique opportunity will examine the possible link between weight gain in parents and their children, and how parenting style and home environment can impact body mass.

“Obesity risk factors tend to cluster within families, as family meal-times, parenting style and work patterns are strong contributors to weight fluctuation,” Assoc Prof Maher says.

“By comparing parent and child data across weight gain, activity and diet we hope to identify new opportunities for Australian families to better manage their health and weight during high-risk times.”

World Obesity Day:

WORLD Obesity Day is on October 11, 2019. Established in 2015 by the World Obesity Federation, World Obesity Day is an annual campaign that aims to stimulate and support practical actions that will help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reverse the global obesity crisis.

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Media: Annabel Mansfield: office +61 8 8302 0351 | mobile: +61 417 717 504
email: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au
Researcher: Associate Professor Carol Maher: office: +61 8 8302 2315

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