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Is there a link between obesity, chronic illness and bullying?

Press release issued: 6 July 2011

A study exploring the prevalence of overweight and obesity in nine-year-olds and its associations with chronic illness and bullying will be presented today [Wednesday 6 July] at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Academic Primary Care hosted by the University of Bristol's Academic Unit of Primary Health Care.

The findings, to be presented today [Wednesday 6 July] at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Academic Primary Care hosted by the Academic Unit of Primary Health Care at the University of Bristol this week [Wednesday 6 to Friday 8 July], explore the prevalence of overweight and obesity in nine-year-olds and its associations with chronic illness and bullying.

Childhood obesity is a major personal, family and public health challenge.  Weight problems and obesity in children has increased dramatically throughout Europe in the past two decades.  In addition to the increased likelihood of adult obesity with its associated health risks, serious short-term physical and psychosocial consequences endanger the wellbeing of an affected child.

The researchers used a sample of 8,568 nine-year-old children and their families from the first wave of data collection from Growing Up in Ireland - the National Longitudinal Study of Children.

The study found obesity to be more prevalent in girls.  In addition children, particularly boys with an abnormal body weight had a significantly higher rate of an ongoing chronic illness.

Children who were overweight or obese were a lot more likely to be victimised by bullying when compared to children who were not overweight.

Dr Udo Reulbach, Clinical Research Fellow in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care & HRB Centre for Primary Care Research, Trinity College Dublin, said: “Previous research has indicated that girls may be more susceptible to overweight and obesity than boys.

 “Obesity and overweight are of major concern in Irish children with girls being more affected.  It is associated with a higher likelihood of having chronic conditions and being bullied.”

Data collection consisted of self-completion surveys with children in school and at home and interviewer administered questionnaires with parents and children in their home.  International cut-off points for nine-year-olds for overweight and obesity were used defined to pass through body mass index (BMI) through BMI 25 and 30kg/m2 at age 18 to classify weight categories.  Analysis was based on statistically reweighted data to ensure that it is representative of all nine-year-olds in Ireland.

Further research is needed to explore the impact General Practitioners may have in communicating concerns about the weight of a child to parents.

Clinicians may also need to discover the effect of negative weight stereotyping on bullying in children.  The much higher rates of overweight and obesity in Irish girls require further investigation and attention.

Obesity has been well established as a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, musculoskeletal disorders, other chronic diseases, some cancers and an overall higher chance of premature death and disability.

In addition to the physical consequences, childhood overweight and obesity is associated with a range of other negative outcomes including poor psychological and educational outcomes and social inequalities.

Further information

Paper: The prevalence of abnormal body weight in 9-year-olds and its implication to General Practice by Udo Reulbach and Tom O’Dowd.

About the conference
The 40th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Academic Primary Care runs from Wednesday 6 July to Friday 8 July. It is the leading academic primary care meeting in the UK. There will be plenary talks from outstanding speakers, parallel presentations on a wide range of topics, workshops, panel sessions and posters. This year’s conference is organised by Professor Chris Salisbury, Professor Debbie Sharp, Professor Alan Montgomery and Dr Sarah Purdy of the University of Bristol.

About the Society for Academic Primary Care
The Society for Academic Primary Care exists to support, promote and develop the discipline of academic primary care, bringing together teachers, researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to promote excellence in the development, delivery and evaluation of primary care policy and practice.

The Society's work is underpinned by 3 key principles: promoting excellent teaching, research, and critical reflection on primary care practice and policy; valuing a distinctive primary care approach; recognising the importance of a multidisciplinary membership to achieve our goals.

Growing Up in Ireland is a Government study. The Department of Health & Children is funding it through the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in association with the Department of Social Protection and the Central Statistics Office.

The Office of the Minister for Children is overseeing and managing the study, which is being carried out by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin.

Please contact joanne.fryer@bristol.ac.uk for further information.