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Researchers are hoping to help Australians avoid the inevitable weight gain that accompanies the holiday festive season.

University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers will track changes in weight, activity and diet of parents and their children to seek to identify risk time-periods for weight gain and the most critical moments for intervention.

The study aims to address Australia’s obesity crisis where nearly two-thirds of adults and almost one-quarter of children are overweight or obese.

Out of the 34 OECD countries, Australia’s obesity rate ranks fifth highest with strong growth in the past 10 years.

“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,” lead researcher UniSA Associate Professor Carol Maher said.

Understanding the seasonal triggers for weight gain in Australia was crucial in developing targeted and effective obesity programs, she said.

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

“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.”

The UniSA study will recruit parents of children in an existing NHMRC-funded cohort study examining children’s weight gain to track and compare the weight, activity and diets of adults with their children over a 12-month period.

This will enable researchers to 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.

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