The study, led by Dr Li Ming Wen, from South Western Sydney and Sydney Local Health Districts, who is also a PhD candidate at the University’s Sydney Medical School, was published today in bmj.com, the online edition of the British Medical Journal.
The research is a collaboration between South Western Sydney and Sydney Local Health Districts and the University.
The findings show lower body mass index (BMI) and lower percentages of overweight and obesity for children whose mums received targeted health messages during home visits over a two-year period, compared to a control group receiving no intervention.
The mean BMI (at 24 months) for children in the intervention group was 16.49 (where a healthy BMI is 14-18 for boys and 13-18 for girls) compared with 16.87 in the control group and 11.2 percent of the intervention group were overweight or obese after 24 months compared with 14.1 percent of the control group.
The study highlights that the first few years of a child’s development are crucial in setting the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health outcomes. The authors conclude that the results are very encouraging but that the cost-effectiveness of such programs requires further investigation.
“These results are very exciting because they open up new ways for preventing obesity in early life, especially in disadvantaged areas. The reduction in BMI achieved through this kind of intervention could translate into almost a three percent reduction in the number of children who are overweight or obese, which has great public health significance,” Professor Louise Baur, a contributing author from the University’s Charles Perkins Centre and Children’s Hospital at Westmead Clinical School, commented.
The study looked at 667 first-time mothers and their infants who received eight home visits from specially trained community nurses over two years. The timing of visits was designed to coincide with early childhood developmental milestones. The nurses looked at the children’s body mass index, feeding habits and television viewing time.
“This is the first study of its kind to look at such outcomes at two years of age,” Professor Baur said.
Nurses taught mothers healthy eating and exercise habits for their children and key intervention messages: breast is best; no solids for me until six months; I eat a variety of fruit and vegetables everyday; only water in my cup and I am part of an active family.
In the intervention group 89 percent of children were significantly more likely to eat one or more servings of vegetables per day compared with 83 percent in the control group and 62 percent of children in the intervention group were likely to be given food as a reward compared with 72 percent in the control group.
Fewer children in the intervention group ate in front of the television (56 percent compared with 68 percent in the control group). 14 percent of children in the intervention group watched more than the recommended amount of television compared with 22 percent in the control group.
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