The overall prevalence of childhood obesity is levelling off in the UK but this is not evident among socio-economically disadvantaged children and ethnic differences are apparent. Few UK intervention studies involve ethnic minority groups.
This study aimed to conduct developmental research in areas of ethnic diversity in both schools and places of worship to identify culturally acceptable child- and family-based interventions.
Awareness of some healthy eating messages (e.g. five-a-day fruit and vegetables) was widespread across ethnic groups but there were gaps in knowledge, such as a lack of awareness of physical activity recommendations for children. For ethnic minority groups, a key facilitator of healthy lifestyles included regular family meals. Concern was expressed about fast food outlets near homes and schools, the perceived danger of outdoor spaces and, for Black Caribbean and Black African parents, lack of traditional ingredients in large supermarkets.
Interactive intervention sessions to address gaps in knowledge and promote skills and habits yielded the most favourable results. Participation rates were also high for all dietary and physical activity assessment measures. There is, however, a need to augment food composition databases with ethnic-specific foods to improve cultural appropriateness.
Feedback from teachers, parents and key contacts in places of worship signaled approval of the intervention. The feasibility of delivering intervention sessions may be better in schools but raises the question of the extent of compliance and sustainability of behaviour change in the long-term, without the culturally-focused support for families from their communities.