Studying What Our Children Eat

Memorial researchers have led a first-of-its-kind study on childhood overweight and obesity and have found high rates of both in pre-school children. The recent study - carried out by the Centre for Excellence for Children and Adolescents with Special Needs - was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Aug. 3, 2004. A report -- titled Overweight and Obesity in Preschool Children in Newfoundland and Labrador -- has also been issued to health officials in this province.

The study indicates that more than 25 per cent of pre-school children in Newfoundland and Labrador can be considered obese according to a standardized method of classifying children using body mass index (BMI). The data for the study was obtained from the Regional Health and Community Services Boards of Newfoundland and Labrador. Specifically, the researchers looked at records of children born in 1997, who participated in the Pre-school Health Check Program, a province-wide screening program conducted by public health nurses prior to school entry. As part of the screening, all children have their weight and height measured using a standard protocol. Over 4,000 children were included in the sample and the children's ages ranged from 3.5 to 5.5 years.

(L-R) Mary Courage, Patricia Canning

The report found that 26 per cent of preschool children in this province are overweight or obese. "It was the aim of the study to establish the prevalence among preschoolers in the province and to help determine the age at which overweight and obesity emerge in children" said "Dr. Patricia Canning, one of the researchers of the study and member of the Faculty of Education at Memorial University. Since high rates of overweight and obesity were seen in the youngest age group in the study, we will be conducting additional research on younger children to determine when this trend begins. We do know that many school -aged children who are overweight are likely to remain overweight, therefore it is very important to address the problem as early as possible."

”Increasing rates of overweight and obesity are seen in older populations all over Canada and indeed the western world," Dr. Canning said. "These data can be considered to be indicative of what is happening in other provinces. These data indicate the need to monitor trends and for prevention and early intervention measures that begin very early."

Other researchers in the groundbreaking study included Dr. Mary Courage and Lynn Frizzell. The Centre of Excellence for Children and Adolescents with Special Needs is a partnership of Memorial University, Lakehead University, the Government of Nunavut, Mount Saint Vincent University and the University of Northern British Columbia. Funding for the centre and this study came from Health Canada and the findings have been widely reported on the CBC-TV and Radio, The Globe and Mail, among others.