Research type 
UK wide
Year of report 

Summary of findings

  • There is no “one size fits all” pattern of child (or rather parental) response, if any, to the challenge of a healthy lifestyle.
  • However, some “markers” of a “healthy” lifestyle and with it a lower child BMI can be identified.
  • The study highlights a number of factors that tend to be predictive of a high (or conversely a low) child BMI.
  • Demographics - especially income and education levels and MOSIAC coding (residential neighbourhood) are predictive of a lower child BMI.
  • Parental BMI is correlated with childhood BMI – specifically for those homes where both parents are obese.
  • Sedentary behaviour or more pertinently a lack of positive activity appears to be important in both the causation and maintenance of childhood obesity. However, the role of physical activity varies by consumer group, with some households placing high value on physical activity than others
  • Low recorded consumption of “healthy foods” – particularly fresh fruit and vegetables and wholemeal/brown breads and home-made foods are predictive of a high child BMI.
  • Little link between the perception of childhood weight and diet (healthy/otherwise) and actual obesity levels in children is established. Thus parents appear unaware of the diet and weight status of their children.
  • An above average reliance on school meals and eating out of home is observed among those clusters with higher than mean levels of childhood obesity.
  • High levels of diet/low calorie foods (generally consumed by adult women) are indicative of a lack of balance in diet (and calorie burn), and an “unhealthy” diet.
  • The example set by parents – and the importance placed by parents on example setting - in both diet and physical activity is, in the author’s view, a critical marker of a healthy lifestyle – encompassing both diet and physical activity.
  • Variability in the amount consumed at each meal or snack does not appear to be a strong (positive or negative) correlate with childhood obesity. For example there is no evidence to suggest that high (or low) levels of Breakfast eating or Snacking (or snack food intake) is linked to obesity.
  • The identification of a number of barriers or obstacles to healthy living by parents is a strong indicator of high levels of childhood obesity. In particular time, knowledge, access and motivation

Research objectives


The main purpose of the project is to quantify the segments of parents of children aged 2-10 in terms of their attitudes to healthy eating and physical activity, and the behaviours (positive or negative) they demonstrate within these areas, considering socio-economic, ethnic, and geographic differences. Further understanding of the segmentation of parents of overweight or obese children is deemed beneficial, in order to understand how their attitudes, behavioural patterns and consumption patterns differ (if at all) from parents of healthy weight children, and if/how the make-up of adult influencers within households affects childhood weight.



The government’s Health White Paper Choosing Health: making healthier choices easier, sets out government commitments for action on obesity, including stemming the rise in obesity among children aged under 11. This reflects the Public Service Agreement (PSA) shared by the DH, DfES and DCMS to halt the year-on-year rise in obesity among children aged under 11 by 2010 in the context of a broader strategy to tackle obesity in the population as a whole.

To contribute to this PSA target, The Department of Health will launch the Obesity Social Marketing Programme. This will reach children and their influencers with a series of messages and interventions. The initial phase of the programme will focus on the behaviours of children age 2-10 and their influencers, particularly parents and carers, whilst later phases will target wider population groups.

The programme is currently in the scoping stage of development. To be effective, an intervention marketing programme relies on a sound understanding of consumer behaviours and the motivations, abilities and opportunities that affect these. This stage of the project aims to provide understanding and insight from which to develop a coordinated term intervention strategy.

Research participants


This study interviewed parents of young children (2-10)

Audience Summary





Recorded but not part of the sample selection process



Parents of children aged 2-10

Social Class


Recorded but not part of the sample selection process (to my knowledge)


Other Research type

Factro analysis

Other data collection methodology

  • The study comprised a multi stage segmentation study based on households with children aged 2-10. The segmentation was based on households with children aged 2-10’s attitudes in relation to health, food and physical activity. Subsequently the resultant clusters were profiled by demographics, socioeconomics, BMI, consumption of food and drink of both carers (parents) and child.
  • Ethnicity of respondent was established as a part of the study, although it should be noted that the sample is not recruited or structured to be representative of ethnic origin.
  • The existing datasets used form a part of the TNS WorldPanel Usage service (Family Food Panel – details included in the appendix). The additional “study specific” dataset consisted of a self completion questionnaire administered to the individual within each household responsible for the majority of food preparation and shopping (typically the mother). This supplementary study was developed to provide greater depth of insight into a number of areas not covered in detail by the existing datasets
  • A factor analysis was conducted on the output from the three administered questionnaires to derive main themes of attitudes and claimed behaviours. This output was then used to further describe the clusters, using cluster analysis.

Sample size


Parents of 883 children aged 2-10 (not reported how many households this included)

Detailed region

  • London and SE
  • South/ Anglia
  • Midlands
  • Lancashire
  • Yorkshire
  • Wales and SW

Fieldwork dates


Not specified

Agree to publish



Research agency


COI Number


Report format