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A new approach to childhood obesity prevention


By Alisdair Valente

Researchers can now accurately predict and prevent which babies are at risk of childhood obesity within the first 1000 days of a baby’s life.

This new method of utilising simple risk factors gathered during pregnancy and doctor visits at 12 months of age can predict with 74.6% accuracy whether or not babies are at risk of childhood obesity by the age of eight to nine.

Research Fellow and Dietitian with the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Centre for Health and Services Research, Dr Oliver Canfell, helped develop ‘i-PATHWAY’; a medical information model and risk assessment that will be the method used to predict future childhood obesity in Australian hospitals.

“Risk factors are the baby’s weight change in the first year, mother’s pre-pregnancy height and weight, father’s height and weight, baby’s sleep pattern in the first year, premature birth, if the mother smoked during pregnancy, and if the baby is female,” Dr Canfell said.

“Almost one-in-four Australian children live with an unhealthy weight, and i-PATHWAY is critical to help prevent obesity in the long-term,” Dr Canfell said.

Corroborating with Dr Canfell, the Australian Institution of Health and Welfare (AIWH) published between 2018-2019, that 25% of Australian children and adolescents aged 2-17 were overweight, and a further 8.2 per cent were obese.

AIWH reports that overweight and obesity generally increase with age, and children regularly move between weight categories. Key factors resulting in rapid weight gain during infancy are poor sleep, marketing of unhealthy foods targeted at children, and having parents who are overweight or obese.

Dr Canfell chose to have the child obesity prediction age at eight or nine with i-PATHWAY because the older the child with obesity is, the more likely they are to live with obesity as an adult.

“The data [from i-PATHWAY] has shown predicting childhood obesity in Australia is possible, but before GPs and Child Health Nurses can use i-PATHWAY in practice, we need to test the model in a different group of children to confirm its predictions are still valid,” Dr Canfell said.

The i-PATHWAY study used data from almost 2000 children followed from birth to the age of nine in what is called the ‘Raine Study’ localised and conducted in Western Australia.

Health and Wellbeing Queensland Chief Executive, Dr Robyn Littlewood, believes supporting i-PATHWAY has the potential to support children and families in the early years and transform lives.

“As Queensland’s prevention agency, we’re empowering clinicians to integrate prevention into their practice and work with them on referral pathways that support Queensland children and families in their homes and communities,” Dr Littlewood said.

Dr Canfell is continuing his work on i-PATHWAY and now works with the Queensland Digital Health Research Network at UQ.

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