Background: Tackling childhood obesity is one of the major contemporary public health policy challenges and vital in terms of addressing socioeconomic health inequalities.We aimed to systematically review studies of the effectiveness of interventions (individual, community and societal) operating via different approaches (targeted or universal) in reducing socio-economic inequalities in obesity-related outcomes amongst children.
Methods: Nine electronic databases were searched from start date to October 2012 along with website and grey literature searches. The review examined the best available international evidence from interventions that aimed to prevent obesity, treat obesity, or improve obesity-related behaviours (diet and/or physical activity) amongst children (aged 0-18 years) in any setting and country, so long as they provided relevant information and analysis on both socioeconomic status and obesity-related outcomes. Data extraction and quality appraisal were conducted using established mechanisms and narrative synthesis was conducted.
Results: We located 23 studies that provided the 'best available' (strongest methodologically) international evidence. At the individual level (n = 4), there was indicative evidence that screen time reduction and mentoring health promotion interventions could be effective in reducing inequalities in obesity. For the community level interventions (n = 17), evidence was inconclusive - with some studies suggesting that school-based health promotion activities and community-based group-based programmes were effective in reducing obesity - others not. Societal level evaluations were few (n = 1). However, there was no evidence to suggest that any of these intervention types increase inequalities and several studies found that interventions could at least prevent the widening of inequalities in obesity. The majority of studies were from America and were of 6-12 year old children.
Conclusions: The review has found only limited evidence although some individual and community based interventions may be effective in reducing socio-economic inequalities in obesity-related outcomes amongst children but further research is required, particularly of more complex, societal level interventions and amongst adolescents.