Published on 29/06/2021
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Child with apple and dognut
  • Psychologists at Aston University, Loughborough University, University College London and Kings College London to collaborate on childhood obesity study
  • £1-million project awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council
  • Three-year project to develop practical interventions to tackle obesity in early childhood

A team of psychologists are to start work on a three-year project that will assist parents to address over-eating in pre-school children who have large appetites. The group, which specialises in childhood eating behaviour is led by Aston University, and includes researchers from Loughborough University, University College London and Kings College London. It is a result of a long-standing collaboration between the team members. 

The team have been awarded almost £1-million pounds, by the Economic and Social Research Council. The project aims to help support parents whose children are very focused on and motivated by food and the project will produce guidelines based on the findings that can be used to develop interventions. 

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century and of major societal concern. It places children at high risk of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers in adulthood. According to the charity World Obesity, in just 40 years the number of school-age children and adolescents with obesity has risen more than 10-fold, from 11 million to 124 million (2016 estimates).

Professor Jackie Blissett, Aston University and lead academic on the study said: 

“Childhood obesity usually begins in infancy and early childhood, with up to 90% of children who have obesity at 3 years continuing to have overweight or obesity in adolescence. Some children however, are more vulnerable to the development of obesity than others, due to their genetic susceptibility. 

“A better understanding of the factors which may help to prevent or reduce the risk of childhood obesity, and applying this understanding to develop effective interventions, is of key importance to solving this complex policy and practice challenge.”

The team will use existing longitudinal data from the Gemini study to monitor trends in children’s eating and examine the development of the relationship between children’s appetite and parents’ feeding practices across early childhood. 

In the second phase of the project, which will be lab-based, the team at Aston University are set to recruit two members of research staff to support the study. In the lab, around 120 children will be observed whilst taking part in various food related tasks, to assess which feeding practices change their eating behaviour and help the researchers find the best way of regulating their food intake. 

The team intend to test the effectiveness of certain feeding practices and plan to recruit around 2000 new families who will take part in an online survey to assess children’s appetite traits. 

Professor Claire Farrow, Aston University, and collaborator on the study said: 

“At present, public health advice regarding children's eating and weight is generic, ineffective, and does not tackle variability in children's appetite avidity, which makes behaviour change even more challenging for parents who struggle to manage their child's eating behaviour.” 

“Using current theory to inform complex intervention development, our research will
examine how parents interact with their pre-school children with avid appetites in the food context, evaluate how these interactions predict short and long-term effects on eating behaviour and develop recommendations for interventions in the future.”

You can find out more about studying Psychology at Aston on our website.

Notes to editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world. 

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44)7557 745416 or email: 

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