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To provide an overview of methodological issues in the design, delivery and evaluation of childhood obesity prevention programmes.
Review of existing literature.
Interventions have varied considerably with regard to their design, subject selection criteria, sample size, attrition rates, intervention components and duration of both the intervention and the follow-up phases. However, overall, there is only a limited body of consistent, high-quality evidence on which valid and generalisable conclusions can be drawn about best practices for the prevention of childhood obesity.
Although the rationale for targeting children and adolescents through primary prevention is now compelling, effective obesity prevention remains elusive. There is increasing consensus that prevention of childhood obesity necessitates multifaceted health promotion interventions based on population health principles. By definition, such interventions should have a range of outcome indicators of effectiveness, generalisability and sustainability, not just the traditional ones focused on individual lifestyle behaviour change. Given the complexity and intricacy of population-based intervention programmes, multiple methods of data collection which combine both qualitative and quantitative approaches will need to be fully exploited in order to move towards evidence-based practice in the future.
To evaluate habitual levels of physical activity in a nationally representative sample of adults in Ireland.
Cross-sectional survey using a self-administered questionnaire. Usual levels of work, recreational and household activities were evaluated in relation to anthropometric, demographic and socio-economic characteristics. The amount and intensity of all activities were quantified by assigning metabolic equivalents (METS) to each activity.
Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, 1997–1999.
Random sample of 1379 adults aged 18–64 years.
Men were approximately twice as active in work and recreational activity (139.7 ± 83.9 METS) as women (68.5 ± 49.8 METS; P < 0.001), but women were three times more active in household tasks (65.9 ± 58.7 METS vs. 22.6 ± 24.6 METS; P < 0.001). Overall levels of physical activity declined with increasing age, particularly leisure activity in men. In women the decline in work activity was offset by spending more time in household pursuits. Twenty-five per cent of the subjects were extremely overweight (body mass index (BMI) > 28kg m−2) or obese (BMI > 30kg m−2). Fewer obese subjects reported higher levels of work and leisure activities. However, a higher percentage of obese women reported participation in the higher levels of household activities. Participation rates in recreational activities were low. Walking was the most important leisure activity of both men (41%) and women (60%). In terms of hours per week spent in vigorous physical activity, men were more active than women, professional and skilled non-manual women were more active than women in other social classes, and younger subjects (aged 18–35 years) were more active than older subjects.
The holistic approach used in the assessment of physical activity in this study has revealed important and subtle differences in the activity patterns of men and women. Failure to fully characterise the respective activity patterns of men and women could lead to ill-informed public health policy aimed at promoting and sustaining lifetime habits of physical activity. The results suggest that simple population-focused programmes to promote physical activity are unlikely to offer the same chance of long-term success as more sensitive and individualised strategies.
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