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Southampton researchers lead international project to tackle childhood obesity

An international study involving Southampton researchers is assessing support for parents that could reduce childhood obesity, starting before pregnancy.

The Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative (HeLTI) was developed with the World Health Organization (WHO). It is recruiting 22,000 women in China, India, South Africa and Canada.

The programme is assessing care from before pregnancy until children are five years old.

Supporting families

The project will research support to help mothers eat well, maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress and prevent mental illness. They also aim to investigate parenting skills support, such as how to help babies and children eat, exercise, and sleep well.

Prof Shane Norris, Professor of Global Health at the University of Southampton, is leading the South Africa arm of the project. He is a researcher in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre’s Nutrition, Lifestyle and Metabolism theme.

Dr Kalyanaraman Kumaran, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, is leading the India arm of the programme.

Women recruited to the study who conceive (an expected 10,000) and their children will be contacted at various stages of life. This will start before pregnancy, continuing through pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood up to the age of five years.

Meeting health leaders

HeLTI leaders recently met in South Africa to discuss the project’s early findings. They were joined by the South African Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, the Director General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the President of the South African Medical Research Council, Professor Glenda Gray.

Discussions focused on how health and care before pregnancy could reduce childhood obesity. They also spoke about how the first 1,000 days are particularly important for mothers’ and children’s health.

Prof Norris said: “Being healthy before pregnancy is extremely important for women to have a healthy pregnancy and birth, and for her baby to be healthy.

“Supporting women and young children from these very early stages, including during the critical period of the ‘first 1000 days’, helps to give all children the best start in life.

“We are very proud to be taking a leading role in such an important international study. The recent meeting was very productive, especially as we had the opportunity to discuss the HeLTI with policymakers.”

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