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Original Research

Prevalences of overweight and obesity among children in remote Aboriginal communities in central Australia

Submitted: 22 July 2011
Revised: 3 December 2011
Published: 9 March 2012

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Author(s) : Schultz R.

Rosalie Schultz

Citation: Schultz R.  Prevalences of overweight and obesity among children in remote Aboriginal communities in central Australia. Rural and Remote Health 12: 1872. (Online) 2012. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au

ABSTRACT

Introduction:  The chronic diseases associated with overweight and obesity are major contributors to the excess disease burden of Aboriginal Australians. Surveillance of overweight and obesity is required to monitor these conditions, and to develop and evaluate interventions to improve health and wellbeing. Remote Aboriginal communities in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) are where approximately two-thirds of the NT Aboriginal people live, a proportion which has been stable over many years. However the remote communities suffer significant socioeconomic disadvantage including limited education and employment opportunities, and poor quality and overcrowded housing. Approximately one-third of Aboriginal people in NT live in central Australia, which consists of the Alice Springs and Barkly districts. The Healthy School-Aged Kids Program includes health promotion and child health screening, and is run in remote Aboriginal communities of NT. This report provides estimates of prevalences of overweight and obesity among children in central Australia who participated in health checks as part of Healthy School-Aged Kids Program in 2010.
Methods:  All children in remote central Australian Aboriginal communities were invited to participate in health checks. Children who attended were weighed and measured. Date of birth, sex, height and weight for each child were used to determine prevalence of overweight (≥+1 standard deviation [SD] BMI-for-age) and obesity (≥+2 SD BMI-for-age) according to WHO Growth Standards. Differences in proportions of overweight and obesity by age group and sex, and their statistical significance were calculated.
Results:  Weight, height, sex and age data were available for 996 children from a population of 1764. It was found that 22.1% of girls and 20.7% of boys were overweight; and 5.1% of girls and 5.8% of boys were obese as defined by BMI-for-age. Prevalence of overweight but not obesity increased with age (for overweight z=3.28, p=0.0011; for obesity z=0.68; p=0.50).
Conclusion:  The prevalences of overweight and obesity as estimated by BMI-for-age among children in remote central Australian Aboriginal communities were compared with those in other Australian surveys. They appear unlikely to reflect future relative risk of the chronic diseases with which overweight and obesity are associated. Routine collection of data on BMI-for-age may not provide adequate estimation of future risk of chronic disease burden attributable to overweight and obesity among these children. Alternative measures for surveillance for overweight such as waist circumference may prove more useful. Appropriate interventions to reduce risk of chronic disease are required, including interventions to reduce prevalences of overweight and obesity.

Key words: Aborigines, Australia, child, chronic disease, Northern Territory, obesity, overweight.

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