UCL Health


Origins and risk factors known to create and widen inequalities in childhood obesity

This project will investigate the origins and risk factors that are known to create and widen inequalities in childhood obesity.

30 November 2021


Inequalities in childhood obesity are marked and have widened in recent years. Inequalities are well-recognised and described yet less is known about the complex causes and underlying mechanism by which they act.

Inequalities in obesity can occur from direct or indirect effects of household, sociocultural or geographical disadvantage, or other factors, such as ethnicity. These factors can occur in isolation or combine when occurring across multiple domains. 

There are also known risk factors for childhood obesity that are likely to be key drivers of inequality in obesity. Parental obesity, for example, may occur more often in disadvantaged families, which then may contribute to higher levels of obesity in deprived children. 

There is a gap in the current evidence as to when in the early life-course sources of inequality and risk factors that widen inequalities are most impactful. A better understanding of this would be beneficial to policymakers. 


This research seeks to provide insight into when and how inequalities in obesity form throughout early childhood, with a view to identifying entry points for interventions, and identify key risk factors that widen inequalities, with a view to inform the targeting of obesity policies and interventions. 


For these analyses, we propose using longitudinal data. First, we plan to explore the impacts of different sources of inequalities on childhood obesity. We will then consider these sources at varying time points across the early life course by mapping obesity in children and families through a temporal sequence from pre-pregnancy through to the end of the primary school years/adolescence.

Finally, we will study a range of risk factors that are known to widen inequalities. These may include, parental BMI, breastfeeding, childhood health factors (e.g. asthma) and examine how these contribute to the widening of inequalities.  


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The NIHR Policy Research Unit in Healthy Weight is part of the NIHR and hosted by UCL.