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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Should public health interventions aimed at reducing childhood overweight and obesity be gender-focused?

Aline Simen-Kapeu and Paul J Veugelers*

Author Affiliations

School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:340  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-340

Published: 14 June 2010



Overweight in childhood is a major public health concern that calls for immediate preventative action. An increasing number of reports suggest that gender specific approaches to prevention may be more effective. However, there is a paucity of information to guide gender-sensitive health promotion and population health interventions for the prevention of overweight in childhood. In the present study, we sought to determine gender-differentials in overweight and underlying behaviors, nutrition and physical activity, among pre-adolescents in Alberta, Canada, to inform the discussion on gender-focused interventions for chronic disease prevention.


In 2008, we surveyed 3421 grade five students and their parents of 148 randomly selected schools. Students completed the Harvard food frequency questionnaire, questions on physical activities, and had their height and weight measured. Parents completed questions on socio-economic background and child's lifestyle. We applied multilevel regression methods to assess gender differentials in overweight, nutrition and physical activity.


Overall, the prevalence of overweight was slightly higher among boys (29.1%) than girls (27.9%) with more pronounced differences in towns and urban geographies. Boys reported to be much more physically active relative to girls (OR = 2.12, 95% CI: 1.73-2.60). Diets of boys, relative to those of girls, reportedly constituted more fat and were less likely to meet the recommendation of 6 daily servings of vegetables and fruits (OR = 0.81, 95% CI: 0.71-0.93).


Our findings confirm the existence of gender differences in physical activity and nutrition, and support gender-focused health promotion whereby priority is given to physical activity among girls and to healthy eating among boys.