Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Childhood Obesity: Perceptions Held by the Public in Calgary, Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Childhood Obesity: Perceptions Held by the Public in Calgary, Canada

Article excerpt


Objective: To investigate the perceptions about causes and prevention of childhood obesity held by the adult public in Calgary, Canada.

Design: Using a cross-sectional survey design, adults were recruited from a shopping mall located in a region of Calgary, Alberta characterized by mixed ethnic and socio-economic residents.

Subjects: 264 adults in Calgary, Canada.

Measurements: Participants completed a self-administered questionnaire that involved rating the importance of 25 potential causes of obesity and 13 potential preventive measures, using a four-point Likert scale anchored by "not important" and "very important". Demographic information including age, sex, educational level, parental status, and self-reported weight and height was also collected.

Results: Principal components analysis of questionnaire items revealed five "cause" factors ('parental responsibility', 'over-consumption and media promotion of unhealthy foods', 'misuse/overuse of modern technology', 'children's lack of knowledge and motivation', 'physical activity environment') and two "prevention" factors ('healthy public/private policy and targeted intervention', and 'media campaigns and compulsory physical education'). Tests for group differences revealed that women ranked 'over-consumption of unhealthy foods and media influence' and 'physical activity environment' as more important causes of childhood obesity than men. Additionally, persons classified as obese ranked 'misuse/overuse of modern technology' and 'healthy public/private policy and targeted intervention' as more important than those persons classified as under/normal weight.

Conclusion: By providing a snapshot of views held by the public regarding childhood obesity in this large Canadian city, this study offers preliminary guidance about publicly acceptable intervention strategies for use by health promotion researchers and policy-makers.

Key words: Obesity; child; public opinion

Research indicates that globally, and particularly in the western world, the incidence of obesity in children has risen alarmingly.1 in canada, for example, measured height and weight data from 1978/79 and 2004 reveal a nearly threefold increase in obesity prevalence among children age 2-17 years, from 3% to 8% over this 25-year period.2 this is a concern because childhood obesity is a risk factor for health and psychosocial consequences both short- and long-term.3,4

Considering the multifactorial nature of childhood obesity, it is no surprise that many different prevention strategies have been proposed.5-7 however, the pattern of public support for these initiatives in different locations is not well understood. Very few studies have canvassed the public's views, even though an understanding of lay views is critical for developing strategies that are publicly acceptable.8

The goal of our study was to examine the public perceptions in calgary, alberta of the causes and prevention of obesity among children in kindergarten to grade 6. This study represents a modified replication of the work of hardus et al. (2003), completed in australia.8


Subjects and procedure

Using a cross-sectional survey design, a convenience sample of 264 adults aged 18 plus (37.3% 18-30, 22.7% 30-40, 22.0% 41-50, 15.2% 51-65, and 3.8% 65+) were recruited from a shopping mall located in the ethnically and socio-demographically diverse northeast quadrant of calgary. During three days in January 2005, adults were invited to complete a questionnaire on childhood obesity. Data were collected during all open hours in hopes of capturing a diversity of shoppers. This study was approved by the university of calgary conjoint health Research ethics board.


We adapted a questionnaire developed by hardus et al.8 for the purpose of assessing lay perceptions of causes and strategies to prevent obesity among children in kindergarten to grade 6. …

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