Six measures to slash obesity among immigrant children in Australia: Academics call for action

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

A range of lifestyle, resource, policy and information barriers were preventing good nutritional practices. ©iStock
A range of lifestyle, resource, policy and information barriers were preventing good nutritional practices. ©iStock

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A number public policy, health and community measures have been identified by researchers in Australia to help reduce rising obesity rates among child immigrants.

Data and opinions from people with Vietnamese, Burmese, African, Afghani and Indian origins living in disadvantaged areas of Victoria were gathered in a bid to understand why obesity levels among ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ (CALD) were growing.

They found that getting settled in after migrating, language barriers, and junk food advertising were some of the barriers to keeping childhood obesity down.

They are now calling for raft of measures to be implemented, ranging from a tax on junk food to boosting health and nutrition advice through local “community champions”.

“Identification of the most important barriers and facilitators of engagement by CALD communities in obesity prevention initiatives has highlighted key areas for improvement to the current services, and also enabled a greater understanding of the existing beneficial elements which need reinforcement in the long term,”​ wrote researchers in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

They found a range of lifestyle, resource, policy and information barriers were preventing good nutritional practices, such as a lack of time to prepare meals, inadequate government health and nutrition checks, and absence of guidelines and advice, along with language and cultural issues.

“The complex relationships between the environment, culture, food systems and health behaviours highlighted in this study emphasise the need for multi-pronged approaches which are responsive to the changing demographic trends to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity among CALD communities,”​ they wrote.

They are now calling for a ‘whole of government’ approach including robust food taxation policies, consistent control of food advertising and marketing strategies targeting children, transparency from the food industry.

They also want better distribution of healthy food outlets and fresh food markets, and a reduction in the disproportionate number of takeaway food kiosks.

At the individual level, improving the health literacy of CALD communities using 'culturally appropriate channels' including trained community champions is being recommended.

“While considerable time and effort goes into the design of health interventions, the lack of research involving their implementation and delivery has resulted in the poor reach of these interventions, especially among CALD communities,”​ warn the researchers.

“Obtaining the views of potential programme participants, matching programme materials to the literacy levels of the community and reducing or eliminating structural barriers to participation (e.g. transport, costs and language) prior to program implementation will go a long way towards improving the obesity program participation rates among CALD communities.”

They argue that childhood obesity levels have recently plateaued in developed countries, including Australia. However, they continue to rise disproportionately among disadvantaged groups, with government measures failing to make an impact outside of mainstream populations.

“Overall, a multi-disciplinary approach involving policymakers, health practitioners, service providers and community members towards addressing childhood obesity would enable the development and implementation of obesity prevention initiatives that are responsive to the needs of consumers from culturally diverse backgrounds,” ​they added.


Source:  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

DOI: 10.1111/1753-6405.12648

“Barriers and facilitators to childhood obesity prevention among culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in Victoria, Australia”

Authors: Sheila Cyril, et al.

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