U.K. study delves into combating obesity among children in minority groups

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Working with school and religious groups can help health advocates and agencies combat childhood obesity in minority populations.

According to a recent study by Maria J. Maynard, Graham Baker, Emma Rawlins, Annie Anderson and Seeromanie Harding published in BMC Public Health, advocates for healthy living can have success in reducing childhood obesity in minority populations by making use of a community-oriented intervention approach.

Obesity is a big problem for people and health care systems. Childhood obesity can lead to adult obesity and many associated health problems which decrease quality of life and increase costs to the health care system as a whole because of obese people's increased likelihood of illness. Obesity in minority populations is on the rise, especially among minorities who have recently immigrated to the West. Recent studies conducted in the United States and Britain have shown that there is a link between ethnicity and childhood obesity. Studies have shown that girls of Black African origin are at an increased risk of becoming overweight.

Cultural differences can marginalize obesity interventions that are successful among majority populations, so researchers in the study chose to connect with minority populations through local churches and schools.

The study, called DEAL (DiEt and Active Living study), took place in London, U.K. and consisted of 44 students at six schools and six places of worship from predominately minority areas of the city. Six ethnic groups, Black Caribbeans, Black Africans, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and White British were involved in the study.

The study consisted of interviews with the students and their parents and the evaluation of intervention efforts at the schools and places of worship. Interviewers asked the students and their families about their diet, physical activity and school efforts to increase health awareness. The study found that children from some minority groups, particularly ones from South Asia, are more likely to engage in behaviors that contribute to obesity. Matriarchal figures, such as grandmothers and mothers can be key to helping curb these behaviors and encouraging a more healthy diet and lifestyle.

While the study found that school-based interventions are most effective in helping to combat obesity among the populations surveyed, interventions at places of worship can also be extremely helpful in supplementing these efforts. The study found that programs done in isolation, with little home or community support, are more likely to fail than interventions in which the community and individual families participate.

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