Obesity can be transmitted to younger children

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New research has shown that children at schools where older students are overweight are significantly more likely to suffer weight problems themselves.

Dr Scott Leatherdale, chair of research at Cancer Care Ontario and lead investigator with the School Health Action, Planning and Evaluation System, found that for each one per cent increase in the prevalence of obese students aged 16 to 18 years, the odds of a student at 14 to 16 years old attending that school also being overweight increased significantly.

"It was the one risk factor that held true across every school we looked at," said Dr Leatherdale. "Schools that had a large number of obese younger students were disproportionately likely also to have a high percentage of overweight older students. The association was completely consistent."

Dr Leatherdale, who examined 25,000 children across 76 schools, is the first expert to study the link between the weight issues of older and younger children attending the same schools.

He said: "It could be that younger students look up to older students, and so emulate their sedentary behaviour and bad eating habits and do not judge the older children's body shape. Or it could be that the school doesn't encourage enough physical activity among its students, and the older students' weight issues are an indication of that."

Excessive weight gain among young people is associated with hypertension and high cholestrerol, and is also linked to behavioural, emotional, and educational problems, cardiovascular disease and increased risk of some cancers.

Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at Warwick University believes social networks may influence obesity. He said: "Obesity is one phenomenon that medical sociologists have nominated as an 'epidemic' that is transmitted by copying the behaviour of peers. The reason it's called an 'epidemic' is because the pattern is reinforced by regular contact.

"The idea is that you overcome obesity by breaking up the networks where it's transmitted."

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