A Better Start’s Model Acceptance study is the first of its kind to explore the acceptability of early childhood obesity prediction in a multi-ethnic cohort of parents, caregivers, and grandparents of children aged five years and under in New Zealand.

Using an anonymous online questionnaire distributed nationwide, researchers received a total of 1,934 responses from parents, caregivers, and grandparents of children aged five years and under which could be analysed.

Nearly two-thirds (62.1 percent) of respondents would “definitely” or “probably” want to hear if their child was at risk of early childhood obesity, although “worried” (77 percent) and “upset” (53 percent) were the most frequently anticipated responses to such information.

Grandparents, male, and Asian respondents were more receptive to the information, but there were no differences in acceptance according to socioeconomic status, levels of education, or other ethnicities.

Key researchers Professor Rachael Taylor, Director of the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre at the University of Otago (pictured below); Senior Research Fellow Jose Derraik; and PhD student Eadaoin Butler say these findings are fascinating.

“We were intrigued to see that there were no differences in acceptability of the information according to socioeconomic status, education or ethnicity (with the exception of the Asian respondents who were more accepting), with the majority of all groups wanting to know this information if it was available,” Rachael says.

“It was also interesting to see parents were most interested in receiving such information when the child started eating solids (compared with other stages of early life).

“Parents were very clear they would like more support around nutrition than is currently provided.”

She adds early prevention of childhood obesity is important for several reasons.

“The treatment of obesity is notoriously difficult; rapid weight gain in infancy and early childhood are strong predictors of later obesity; and perhaps behaviours that might promote weight gain can be avoided before they become entrenched.”

For parents of young children, excess weight is simply not seen as an issue – unless it gets to the point where it is impeding their health or leading to bullying or other adverse effects, Rachael continues.

“This is totally understandable – but unfortunately, the majority of children who become heavier than is ideal for their health when they are small, retain that weight as older children and adolescents.”

Overall, the Model Acceptance study showed respondents were generally accepting of childhood obesity prediction.

“If such models were delivered in a sensitive and empathetic manner by healthcare professionals they could be an acceptable tool to assist interventions to prevent later childhood obesity,” Rachael says.

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