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Educating mums could be key to reducing childhood obesity:

University of Sydney Healthy Beginnings trial shows encouraging results
By Bonita Mersiades
Date: July 03 2012
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A recently published Australian study in the British Medical Journal shows that children are more likely to grow up being a healthy weight if their mothers are taught about healthy eating and active play with their babies.

The study is part of the Healthy Beginnings Trial by the University of Sydney Medical School in which 667 first-time mothers received eight home visits from an early childhood health nurse in the baby's first twelve months.

The timing of visits was designed to coincide with early childhood developmental milestones with nurses looking at the children's body mass index (BMI), feeding habits and television viewing time.

As part of the visits the nurses supported mothers to continue breastfeeding and encouraged regular 'tummy time', where infants lie on their stomachs, which helps to strengthen infants' neck and back muscle motor movement. These are crucial for more complicated movements such as sitting, rolling over and crawling.

Dr Li Ming Wen, lead researcher from the University of Sydney and South Western Sydney Local Health Districts said that the results show that risk factors for overweight and obesity can be modified if addressed early.

Children in the intervention group had a lower BMI and were less likely to be overweight or obese at two years of age than the other group.

"This is a very important finding considering the number of children who are overweight or obese,” said Dr Wen.

The ‘intervention’ group involved in the trial breastfed for an average of 17 weeks, compared with the ‘control’ group of 13 weeks and the daily practice of playing with the baby began much earlier and was as high as 83% with the ‘intervention’ group. The children in the ‘intervention’ group were also more likely to eat one or more servings of vegetables daily (89% compared with 83%) and were less likely to be rewarded with food (62% compared with 72%).

Fewer children in the ‘intervention’ group ate in front of the television (56% compared with 68%), and they were also less likely to watch more than the recommended amount of television.

"These results are very exciting because they open up new ways for preventing obesity in early life, especially in disadvantaged areas,” according to Professor Louise Baur, a paediatric specialist and contributing author to the study.

“The reduction in BMI achieved through this kind of intervention could translate into almost a 3% reduction in the number of children who are overweight or obese, which has great public health significance.”

Childhood obesity is a serious public health issue and a significant challenge for policy makers, early childhood development experts, public health experts, educators and medical professionals. In Australia, one-fifth (20%) of all children aged 2-3 years of age are classified as overweight or obese, with evidence suggesting that excess weight in early childhood is related to excess weight in later life.

The results of this trial, based on direct and regular intervention with new mothers, are encouraging but will also have to be assessed for their cost-effectiveness. The children involved in the Healthy Beginnings trial will be followed-up until they are 5 years of age.

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