Academics from the University of Birmingham are engaging with grandparents in China to help to tackle the increasing problem of obesity among Chinese children in a trailblazing public health programme.

Our research shows that Chinese children who are mainly cared for by their grandparents are more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese, compared with those who are mainly looked after by their parents or other adults.

Love and care

It has been estimated that over 30 million children between the ages of seven and 18 years are overweight or obese in China. However, until now, rigorously developed and evaluated prevention interventions have remained scarce.

Many grandparents in China believe that being heavy at a young age will benefit a child as they grow old and they often use food as a way to express love and care. This behaviour, coupled with the fact that many Chinese grandparents have lived through famine, perpetuates the issue of childhood obesity.

Chinese grandparents are increasingly the main caretakers of children in three-generation families and have a greater say in youngster’s eating behaviours and physical activity.

Through quizzes, interactive learning activities and behavioural challenges, the academics are hoping that they can change perceptions and encourage grandparents to favour and support healthier and more active lifestyles among the young.

Groundbreaking research

Dr Bai Li, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, is training the local officers who will deliver the programme. She said: ‘This is a truly groundbreaking project, not least for the families that may benefit, but also for the example it sets for future higher education institutions to work together with Chinese governmental bodies and corporate partners. We would love to see the developed programme being rolled out to benefit more Chinese people.'

The programme has been made possible thanks to a £500,000 (nearly ¥5 million) donation from Zhejiang Yong Ning Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. It marks one of the first instances of a Chinese business funding resources abroad to be then invested back in to China, with academic knowledge and support in the UK reinforced by locally recruited health promotion officers.