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The weight of opinion on childhood obesity: recognizing complexity and supporting collaborative action


NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity, Level 2 K25, University of Sydney 2006, Australia. Fax: 61 2 9036 3184. E-mail:


Objective. The study investigated similarities and differences in the perceptions of parents, adolescents, General Practitioners (GPs) and education professionals regarding childhood overweight and obesity. Methods. The study used qualitative research methods in the form of focus groups and individual interviews with six target groups, comprising parents of preschool children, parents of primary and high school students, high school students, early childhood staff, school teachers and General Practitioners. Participants were recruited through early childhood centres, schools and Divisions of General Practice in four locations, including rural, low, medium and high socioeconomic areas in one state in Australia. Thematic analysis was conducted. Results. A total of 26 focus groups and 17 individual interviews were conducted. There was a high degree of consistency between parents, young people and professional groups regarding awareness and understanding about childhood obesity. Parents were uniformly acknowledged as playing a pivotal role, although their control and links with professionals diminish as children get older. Respondents perceived weight as associated with health, social issues and moral judgments. All groups acknowledged the emotion associated with weight and food; by comparison, discussions about physical activity were straightforward and unemotional. Conclusions. The shared social, cultural and psychological themes illustrate the complexity of childhood obesity as a public health issue, and the need for interventions and communications to take account of perceptions if they are to be relevant and effective. However, the commonality of views also indicates the potential for health professionals, schools, childcare, parents and young people to collaborate on community initiatives.