School sociodemographic characteristics and obesity in schoolchildren: does the obesity definition matter?

Type Article

Journal Article


S. Bel-Serrat; M. M. Heinen; J. Mehegan; S. O'Brien; N. Eldin; C. M. Murrin; C. C. Kelleher

Year of publication



BMC Public Health








BACKGROUND: Existing evidence on the role of sociodemographic variables as risk factors for overweight and obesity in school-aged children is inconsistent. Furthermore, findings seem to be influenced by the obesity definition applied. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate if school sociodemographic indicators were associated with weight status in Irish primary schoolchildren and whether this association was sensitive to different obesity classification systems. METHODS: A nationally representative cross-sectional sample of 7542 Irish children (53.9% girls), mean age 10.4 (±1.2SD) years, participating in the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative in the 2010, 2012/2013 or 2015/2016 waves were included. Height, weight and waist circumference were objectively measured. Five definitions of obesity were employed using different approaches for either body mass index (BMI) or abdominal obesity. Associations between overweight and obesity and sociodemographic variables were investigated using adjusted multilevel logistic regression analyses. RESULTS: Children attending disadvantaged schools were more likely to be overweight and obese than their peers attending non-disadvantaged schools, regardless of the obesity classification system used. Associations remained significant for the BMI-based obesity definitions when the sample was stratified by sex and age group, except for boys aged 8-10.5 years. Only boys aged ≥10.5 years in disadvantaged schools had higher odds of abdominal obesity (UK 1990 waist circumference growth charts: OR = 1.56, 95%CI = 1.09-2.24; waist-to-height ratio: OR = 1.78, 95%CI = 1.14-2.79) than those in non-disadvantaged schools. No associations were observed for school urbanisation level. CONCLUSIONS: School socioeconomic status was a strong determinant of overweight and obesity in Irish schoolchildren, and these associations were age- and sex-dependent. School location was not associated with overweight or obesity. There remains a need to intervene with school-aged children in disadvantaged schools, specifically among those approaching adolescence, to prevent a trajectory of obesity into adult life.