Obesity increase among low SES Australian schoolchildren between 2000 and 2006: time for preventive interventions to target children from low income schools?
OBJECTIVE To examine the developmental trajectory of obesity in adolescence in relation to sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. DESIGN Five year longitudinal cohort study of a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse sample of school students aged 11-12 years at baseline. SETTING 36 London schools recruited to the study in 1999 by a stratified random sampling procedure. PARTICIPANTS 5863 students participated in one or more years. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Weight, height, and waist circumference measured annually by trained researchers; overweight and obesity defined according to International Obesity Task Force criteria; adiposity and central adiposity indexed by body mass index (BMI) and waist standard deviation scores relative to 1990 British reference values. RESULTS In school year 7 (age 11-12), the prevalence of overweight and obesity combined was almost 25%, with higher rates in girls (29%) and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (31%) and the highest rates in black girls (38%). Prevalence of obesity increased over the five years of the study at the expense of overweight, but no reduction occurred in the proportion of students with BMIs in the healthy range. Waist circumferences were high compared with 1990 norms at age 11 (by 0.79 SD in boys and by 1.15 SD in girls) and increased further over time. Both BMI and waist circumference tracked strongly over the five years. CONCLUSIONS Prevalence of overweight and obesity was high in London school students, with significant socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities. Little evidence was found of new cases of overweight or obesity emerging over adolescence, but few obese or overweight adolescents reduced to a healthy weight. The results indicate that persistent obesity is established before age 11 and highlight the need to target efforts to prevent obesity in the early years.