Decline in obesity in NZ four-year-olds

03 January 2018
Young girl

New Zealand’s four-year-olds are resisting the tide towards rising obesity, according to new research.

The national science challenge, A Better Start, analysed national data from the B4 School Check, a health check conducted each year on the country’s four-year-olds, and found that there has been a 2.2% decline in the number of youngsters who are overweight, obese or extremely obese between 2010 and 2016.

The decline is across the board, across gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and urban and rural children.

Lead author Dr Nichola Shackleton of the University of Auckland says, “The research has found a small decline in what has been a rising tide of obesity in our children. While that’s good news for 4-year-olds, we don’t know if this effect continues once they reach school.”

The decline needs to be seen in the context of our rates of childhood obesity which remain among the highest in the world.

The research used data gathered over the six years on between 75% and 92% of four-year olds, about 317,000 children.

Reducing childhood obesity, is fundamental to ensuring better health outcomes for children. Obesity is linked to a long list of health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Obesity contributes to about 9% of all illness, disability and premature death.

A Better Start Director Professor Wayne Cutfield said,” This adds to the picture we have on child obesity. It’s a priority research theme for the Challenge because not having a healthy weight is a leading factor preventing children from going on to lead healthy and successful lives.”

Professor Cutfield said the decline might indicate that health promotion is working on families with young children. For young children, families have easier access to physical activities and better control on what they eat.

This is the first of 11 studies planned for the next two years by the A Better Start Healthy Weight and Big Data teams that will examine important associations between early life events and childhood obesity. These include being born early (preterm), late (post-term), too small (small for gestational age), too large (large for gestational age), increased maternal age, maternal antibiotics in pregnancy and frequent antibiotic exposure in early childhood.

The research is published in the journal Paediatric Obesity.