University of Leicester eBulletin

Asian Families in Obesity Probe

January 2003
No 27

Researchers at the University of Leicester have launched one of the biggest studies into childhood obesity in the UK, funded by the British Heart Foundation.

The key aim of the £100,000 two-year project is to determine the prevalence of health diet and physical activity behaviour in children of South Asian origin and to evaluate an action research intervention to improve health lifestyles. 

The University of Leicester team also aims to determine the association of health lifestyle factors in South Asian children of adults with coronary heart disease and diabetes and those without. 

The study will also determine barriers to changing to healthy lifestyles among South Asian schoolchildren. The study is being conducted in six inner city secondary schools comprising 7,361 children of whom 70% are of South Asian origin.

Dr Kamlesh Khunti, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, said: “Coronary heart disease is the most important cause of premature death and disability in the United Kingdom and there is major impact in both human and economic terms. 

“Mortality from heart disease is approximately three times higher in South Asian patients with diabetes compared to those with diabetes born in England and Wales. Furthermore, South Asians with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop premature coronary heart disease compared to their white British counterparts.

Dr Khunti said obesity in children was now an ‘epidemic’ internationally. “Childhood obesity is a marker for high-risk dietary and physical inactivity. Over the years there has been a rapid increase in overweight and obesity in children. There are now also numerous reports of increased prevalence and incidence of Type 2 diabetes in young patients. The problems of obesity in the UK children is also increasing and is a recognised risk factor for the development of diabetes. 

“Early detection and intervention directed at obesity are potential strategies to avert the long-term consequences of coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Health promotion programmes should therefore address risk factors of development of diabetes mellitus which in turn would lead to reduction in coronary heart disease. 

“The prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes in children will be a daunting challenge and a public health concern in the UK because of the enormous behavioural influence, difficulty in reversing obesity and typical non-adherence in this age group. 

“Health promotion efforts to reduce excess calorie intake with efforts to increase energy expenditure should be of paramount importance in the design of health promotion programmes. However, there are relatively few published obesity prevention and treatment studies that are designed to address specific cultural issues and therefore it is very important to develop culturally important intervention strategies.”


For more information, please contact Dr Khunti on 0116 258 4367.

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