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Does class play a part in obesity?

New research into whether social class is a factor in teenage obesity could shape future policy in this field.

A team from the Centre for Research into Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC) at the University of Hertfordshire and Research Unit in Health, Behaviour and Change (RUHBC) at the University of Edinburgh are undertaking a two-year research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to look at how social class underpins perceptions and practices regarding diet, weight and health among teenagers.

The qualitative study will examine the dietary practices, weight, height and health of a group of 36 middle-class teenagers (aged 13-15 years) and include interviews with their parents/guardians. Half of the teenagers interviewed will be overweight or obese.

The results will be compared with those gathered already by the Edinburgh team, (led by Professor Kathryn Backett-Milburn), in a study carried out amongst young overweight/obese and normal weight teenagers from lower social class groups which found that this group seemed to have little control over what they ate, both at home and in school.

‘The importance of young people’s health and particularly their eating habits has been highlighted in recent policy documents,’ commented Dr Wills, the study’s Principal Investigator. ‘These also place a continued emphasis on understanding factors contributing to socio-economic inequalities in health.’

The new research, which will be carried out in Scotland, will use a qualitative approach based on interviews with the subjects and their parents and adopt the same methodology as the previous study so that a full comparison can be made between the data sets.

‘We already know that young people from lower social class families are at greater risk of becoming overweight/obese and of eating an ‘unhealthy’ diet,’ commented Dr Wills. ‘This comparative work will inform policy and practice in the areas of diet, obesity and health inequalities.’

Helene Murphy | alfa
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