New Zealand study says home life key to fighting obesity

  • 20/09/2017
Close-up of a woman holding a bowl with freshly harvested vegetables
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Establishing family rules and routines around food and limiting screen time can be effective in fighting adolescent obesity, an Otago University study has found.

The approaches were shown to be working for participants considered at high-risk of the condition - those living in low socio-economic, Pacific communities.

Researchers concluded that positive messages empowering families worked better than those that stigmatised people with the condition.

Lead researcher Dr Tasileta Teevale says paediatric obesity is a health priority for New Zealand, which has one of the world's highest rates.

The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, looked at what families were doing well to keep themselves healthy.

Researchers interviewed and assessed 68 parents and adolescents from 30 families.

They looked at how two households - one with an obese adolescent, the other with a healthy-weight one - differed in food and physical activity practices at home.

They found that parents with healthy-weight children:

- Regularly ate breakfast and lunch, rather than skipping those meals, and their children matched their habits;

- Had strict household food rules, such as no fizzy drinks;

- Limited children's screen time, such as watching television and playing electronic gaming.

Dr Teevale said these "resiliency factors" could be applied to obesity prevention and treatment programmes and showed that solutions lay within the community.

They might be particularly effective for Pacific people and other ethnic minority groups, who valued role modelling from families with similar circumstances and backgrounds.