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BMC Public Health. 2014 Mar 4;14:222. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-222.

Socioeconomic patterns of overweight, obesity but not thinness persist from childhood to adolescence in a 6-year longitudinal cohort of Australian schoolchildren from 2007 to 2012.

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Faculty of Education & Social Work, University of Sydney, Building A35, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.



The prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity increased during the 1980s to the late 1990s. The prevalence of obesity is higher in socially and economically disadvantaged communities in most Westernised countries. The purpose of this study was to examine how the socioeconomic gradient in weight status, namely thinness, overweight and obesity, changes over time in a longitudinal cohort of Australian schoolchildren, from 2007-2012.


939 Australian children in school grades 2-6 from 10 primary schools initially participated in the study in 2007. Height and weight were directly measured by research assistants each year. Obesity/overweight and thinness were defined by using the International Obesity Task Force BMI cut-offs. Chi-square analyses were used to test associations between categorical variables and linear mixed models were used to estimate whether the differences in SES groups were statistically significant over time.


Results found both males and females in the low SES group were more likely to be obese (6-7%) than middle (4-5%) and high (2-3%) SES groups and this pattern tended to be similar over the 6 year study period. There appeared to be no particular SES pattern for thinness with all SES groups having 4-5% of participants who were thin. The gender and SES patterns were also similar over 6 years for BMI with low and middle SES participants having significantly greater BMI than their high SES peers.


Patterns of obesity and overweight in children from socially and economically disadvantaged communities in regional NSW are identifiable from a young age and the socioeconomic pattern persists into adolescence. Obesity prevention and intervention programs should be designed, implemented and evaluated with the social determinants of health in mind and in collaboration with community members. Community programs should continue to be based on positive rather than negative messages in order to avoid unintended stigma and other potentially harmful outcomes.

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