By the time they’re 12, one in five children in England has obesity. Childhood obesity is linked to poorer mental and physical health, and higher levels of obesity are seen in children from more deprived areas.
Obesity tends to continue into adulthood, leading to diseases such as diabetes, stroke and cancer. The UK government considers obesity to be a public health priority. They aim to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
Over the last 30 years, many different strategies have been tried around the world to prevent childhood obesity. But which of these strategies work best? For which children and under what circumstances? These are the questions we want to answer in this project.
We will bring together a large number of studies looking at different strategies. Our starting point will be a Cochrane Review that our team put together. Cochrane Reviews are regarded as the gold-standard of evidence about what works in healthcare. They are widely used to inform policy. Using this review as a starting point will be a lot more efficient than doing a new review.
Our main piece of work is a statistical analysis of the results of all the studies we find. We expect there to be over 200 studies, which is many more than have been analysed together before. We will use a new method to analyse these studies, called ‘component-based network meta-analysis’. This was developed by our team in Bristol. In this method we identify important features (‘components’) of the strategies that we can compare across many different studies. This method allows us to learn about what types of strategies work best, by telling us whether each component is important.
We will look at the gender, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic backgrounds of the children involved in the studies. This will help us understand if these factors affect how well the different strategies work. We will also look at how much the different strategies cost.
Two important stages of the project are the opening and closing stages. At the start, we will hold workshops with children and young people, parents, teachers and public health specialists to develop the ‘components’ that we will analyse in the studies. At the end of the project we will assemble these people again to look at the findings. Together we will make some recommendations on how we might prevent childhood obesity in future.
This will be the largest study of its kind so far on preventing childhood obesity, so should provide important insights into this public health issue. We hope this work will help shed light on what does – and doesn’t – work in terms of childhood obesity prevention. This could have an impact on what research is done in future, as well as what steps are taken to prevent childhood obesity.
We also hope that our work in this field will show that our method can be applied to other complex public health questions, which can be difficult to research with traditional study designs.
The University of Bristol is internationally renowned and one of the very best in the UK, due to its outstanding teaching and research, its superb facilities and highly talented students and staff. Its students thrive in a rich academic environment which is informed by world-leading research. It hosts the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research.