HAPPY: Promoting a Healthy Diet for Families

The challenge

Approximately 1 in 5 children in the UK are overweight or obese by the time they start school. Childhood obesity has harmful effects on physical and mental health. These harmful effects continue into adulthood. Preventing this happening is very important. Establishing healthy eating in pregnancy and early childhood is important for healthy growth and development as well as preventing obesity. Poor eating patterns developed early can continue, and have been shown to relate to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes in adulthood.

What we are doing about it

Using questionnaires we have looked at the diet and eating habits of pregnant women, and parent feeding styles, for example breast or bottle feeding and weaning and learnt more about what infants eat at different ages. We have found that:

  • Infants are more likely to be overweight/obese at 3 years if their mums are obese and also if their mums smoke during pregnancy
  • White British mums in Bradford were more likely to smoke during pregnancy compared to mums of South Asian origin
  • White British mums breast fed their infants for less time and weaned earlier compared to mums of South Asian origin
  • South Asian mums were less physically active and had higher rates of gestational diabetes (the sort of diabetes that develops in pregnancy)
  • Pakistani families had more fresh fruit and vegetables in their homes than homes of White families – but also more sugary drinks
  • Obese mums were most likely to use positive comments during feeding, but were also less likely to set limits or boundaries on what their children ate.
  • Diet during infancy is related to ethnicity – Pakistani infants had more sugary drinks, commercial sweet baby meals, fruits and vegetables. White British infants ate more processed meats

We have used this information to:

  • Develop a programme called ‘HAPPY’ to help prevent the children of obese mums from developing childhood obesity. This programme has been developed in a way that will work with Pakistani and White British mums. We have added what we have learnt in BiB to other evidence gathered in studies across the world to improve diet and eating behaviours and reduce obesity.

Our future plans

We would like to spread the HAPPY programme across the country to benefit everyone. We will continue to assess what the children are eating as they grow and how this impacts on their health and well-being.

Links to full research

You can see more on this research at Pinki Sahota’s and Maria Bryant’s talk at the 2015 BiB conference here and in the following papers:

  • Sahota, P., Gatenby, L. A., Greenwood, D. C., Bryant, M., Robinson, S., & Wright, J. (2015). Ethnic differences in dietary intake at age 12 and 18 months: the Born in Bradford 1000 Study. Public health nutrition, 1-9. here
  • Bryant, M., Sahota, P., Santorelli, G., & Hill, A. (2015). An exploration and comparison of food and drink availability in homes in a sample of families of White and Pakistani origin within the UK. Public health nutrition, 18(07), 1197-1205. here
  • Bryant, M., Santorelli, G., Fairley, L., West, J., Lawlor, D. A., Bhopal, R., et al. (2013). Design and characteristics of a new birth cohort, to study the early origins and ethnic variation of childhood obesity: the BiB1000 study. Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, 4(2), 119-135. here
  • Fairley, L., Santorelli, G., Lawlor, D. A., Bryant, M., Bhopal, R., Petherick, E. S., et al. (2015). The relationship between early life modifiable risk factors for childhood obesity, ethnicity and body mass index at age 3 years: findings from the Born in Bradford birth cohort study. BMC Obesity, 2(1), 9. here

Maria Bryant

With a background in nutrition and psychology, Maria’s research focuses on aetiology and solutions to childhood obesity. As lead for the Diet and Obesity portfolio within the Clinical Trials Research Unit at the University of Leeds, she is responsible for coordinating all projects related to the evaluation of obesity interventions and associated methodological research.

This includes clinical trials and research focused on the development and/or evaluation of appropriate outcome measures. This has led to a prestigious award to identify and appraise outcome measures that are used to evaluate effectiveness of childhood obesity treatment interventions.