Shifting curves? Trends in thinness and obesity among Australian youth, 1985 to 2010

Pediatr Obes. 2012 Apr;7(2):92-100. doi: 10.1111/j.2047-6310.2011.00016.x. Epub 2012 Feb 1.


Objective: To describe 25-year trends in the prevalence of ≤Grade 2 thinness and obesity among Australian children by sex, age and socioeconomic (SES) background.

Methods: Cross-sectional surveys of New South Wales school-aged children aged 6.0-16.9 years conducted in 1985-1997-2004-2010 (n = 19 434). Height/weight were measured, and thinness and obesity were defined by international standards. SES was derived from children's residential postcode using the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage, most proximal to the survey year.

Results: Since 1985, the prevalence of thinness has not varied by survey year. Age was not associated with thinness; however, thinness was lower among middle SES boys, compared with high SES (OR: 0.45, 95%CI: 0.21, 0.97). The prevalence of obesity trebled between 1985 and 1997 (1.7% vs. 5.1% P = 0.000); however, since 1997, obesity prevalence has not significantly changed. Since 1997, obesity was higher among younger compared with older girls (OR: 2.11, 95%CI: 1.48, 3.00) and SES was inversely associated with obesity in boys (OR: 2.05, 95%CI: 1.44, 2.92) and girls (OR: 1.86, 95%CI: 1.27, 2.74).

Conclusions: The apparent plateau in child obesity is a welcome finding; however, the SES gradients are of concern. If the obesity stabilization is associated with the impact of multiple lifestyle behavioural interventions, the findings suggest obesity programmes have done 'no harm', but potentially the dose/delivery of interventions has not been sufficient or appropriate to reduce child obesity levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Age Distribution
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New South Wales / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Surveys / statistics & numerical data
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Physical Fitness
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Distribution
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Thinness / epidemiology*