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Research explores childhood obesity prevention among diverse ethnic groups in schools and places of worship


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Places of worship provide more of an opportunity for reaching minority ethnic groups than schools when it comes to tackling childhood obesity, research by a Leeds Beckett University academic suggests.

Research explores childhood obesity prevention among diverse ethnic groups in schools and places of worship

The study, led by Dr Maria Maynard, a senior lecturer in Public Health Nutrition, has been published today in the Preventive Medicine Reports Journal.

Dr Maynard described it as a small-scale, detailed exploration of the recruitment, assessment, and evaluation processes of obesity intervention among minority ethnic children aged 8-13 years.

“In terms of interventions, delivery may be more straightforward in schools, but places of worship provide opportunities for effective reach of minority children, families and communities,” said Dr Maynard. “Our study found that community participatory approaches forging relationships between schools and communities (including places of worship) may be fruitful developments in this area of research.”

A total of 188 children in schools, a church, temple and mosque took part in ‘taster’ intervention sessions which were evaluated via observation, questionnaires, and focus group discussions. Sixty-five of the children participated in the testing of measures, which included three-day food diaries, 24-hour dietary recalls, and wearing accelerometers (objective measures of physical activity).

Dr Maynard commented: “Evaluation coverage was more consistent in the places of worship than in schools. Schools may logistically be more straightforward settings for delivery of interventions but places of worship provide more opportunities for effective reach of children, families and communities.

“Poor response rates of organisations did not hamper the completion of the study as participation rates of individuals were high. However, the recruitment efforts do underscore the likely impact on the time and financial resources required to engage gatekeepers to studies among minority ethnic groups.

“The question remains whether childhood obesity research, and ultimately intervention programmes, would be more effectively conducted in schools or in the community.

“Schools provided consistent access to children, facilities and staff resulting in more intervention sessions being delivered. The ability to formally evaluate intervention sessions in places of worship, however, is encouraging, and intervention evaluation coverage was more consistent in places of worship than in schools.

“Places of worship additionally provide access to parents and other family members, opportunities for cultural tailoring of interventions, and potentially wider community support of children engaged in obesity prevention activities.”

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