Sweet drinks key driver in childhood obesity gap

A Deakin University study of more than 3,000 children shows children in Australia’s lowest socioeconomic group are far more likely to consume sugary drinks and savoury junk food than their wealthier peers, leading to much higher rates of obesity.

The research, published this week in the <itals>International Journal of Epidemiology<itals>, shows half of the children in the country’s poorest demographic are consuming sweet drinks before their first birthday, against nutritional guidelines.

Lead author Alexandra Chung, a visiting researcher in Deakin’s Global Obesity Centre and PhD candidate at Monash University, says existing data shows children in the country’s lowest socioeconomic group are twice as likely to be overweight or obese as those in the highest.

“One in three children with a low socioeconomic position are overweight or obese at age 10 to 11 years, compared with one in six children with a high socioeconomic position,” she said.

Ms Chung says her new research was aimed at determining the drivers of this disparity, with a focus on children’s consumption of ‘discretionary’ foods.

“Previous studies have examined relationships between socioeconomic position, diet and children’s weight at certain points in time,” she said. “This is the first study to demonstrate the effect of cumulative consumption of discretionary food and drinks, from birth and throughout childhood, on socioeconomic differences in children’s weight.”

As part of the study, researchers from Deakin’s Global Obesity Centre analysed data from the nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

From a sample of 3,190 children they examined the socioeconomic position of each child, their standardised BMI and the type of discretionary food they consumed in the 24 hours prior to the survey.

A pathway analysis was used to breakdown the individual components of what was driving obesity and found that sweet-drink and savoury-junk-food consumption was to blame for 11 per cent of the weight disparity between rich and poor.

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