Background Epidemiological studies provide data to determine risk factors, identifiable in infancy, for the development of later childhood obesity. These risk factors can be combined to create a statistical tool (an obesity risk tool, ORT) to predict the likelihood of obesity in later childhood. An ORT may help health professionals identify those babies most likely to benefit from early obesity prevention programs. However, obesity is a sensitive subject. How could an ORT be introduced with maximum benefit and minimal harm?
Aims To determine mothers’ and health visitors’ views of an ORT, through focus group methodology.
Methods Focus group methodology. Ethics approval gained. Focus group sessions were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data analysed using Framework analysis.
Results Sixteen mothers participated in 3 focus groups; 5 health visitors in a separate group.
In support of an ORT, mothers and health visitors felt strongly that information about obesity risk should be communicated; they identified many benefits of early intervention in obesity.
However, in relation to the ORT itself, participants felt mothers might feel blamed, criticised or guilty, and that an ORT risked causing physical harm to the child and a breakdown of the professional relationship. Some mothers struggled with the application of population statistics to themselves, or questioned the statistical basis of the ORT. Participants suggested multiple ways to improve the acceptability of an ORT. Many participants felt strongly that the risk factors in obesity should be communicated widely, via a public health campaign, and that this would facilitate acceptance of an ORT.
Conclusion Mothers wanted to know about the risk factors, available in infancy, for the development of childhood obesity. There was support for a public health campaign around the impact of parental size on childhood obesity risk. The majority of mothers, and all health visitors, were supportive of the ORT concept, albeit with some reservations. Further development of an ORT would need to be coupled with a health professional training program, to ensure ORT delivery is achieved with upmost sensitivity, and linked to a wider public health campaign.