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Looming holiday season a high-risk time for family weight gain

The summer season in Australia often leads to an inevitable weight gain for Australian families, with researchers now looking at the triggers for individuals in this period.

In a world-first study by the University of South Australia, researchers will track changes in weight, activity and diet of parents and their children, seeking to identify higher-risk time periods for weight gain and the most critical moments for intervention.

The study, the researchers said, will aim to address Australia’s obesity crisis, where nearly two-thirds of adults and almost a quarter of children are overweight or obese. Excess weight and obesity are major risk factors for chronic health conditions and have an estimated annual cost to the healthcare system of $21 billion.

Out of the 34 OECD countries, Australia’s obesity rate ranks fifth highest and has shown strong growth over the past 10 years.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Carol Maher says understanding the seasonal triggers for weight gain in Australia is crucial in developing targeted and effective obesity programs.

“Studies suggest that Australian adults tend to gain about 0.5 kg per year, but how and when they gain this weight is not really understood,” she said.

“Seasons, work patterns and special events – like school holidays, Easter or Christmas – certainly contribute to weight gain. But to date, most research has been based in the US or Europe, which doesn’t reflect Australia’s lifestyle or culture.”

Australia has a unique climate – harsh summers and relatively mild winters – which affect how people eat and exercise, she continued.

“Australia’s obesity rates have continued to skyrocket over the past decade, which suggests we need a solution that is specific to our environment and lifestyle.”

Associate Professor Maher added that the study will examine the possible link between weight gain in parents and their children, and how parenting style and home environment can impact body mass.

“Obesity risk factors tend to cluster within families, as family meal times, parenting style and work patterns are strong contributors to weight fluctuation,” she said.

“By comparing parent and child data across weight gain, activity and diet, we hope to identify new opportunities for Australian families to better manage their health and weight during high-risk times.”