What factors are associated with excess body weight in Australian secondary school students?

Belinda C Morley, Maree L Scully, Philippa H Niven, Anthony D Okely, Louise A Baur, Iain S Pratt and Melanie A Wakefield, on behalf of the NaSSDA Study Team*
Med J Aust 2012; 196 (3): 189-192. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.11184


Objectives: To examine the prevalence of overweight and obesity in Australian secondary school students and identify factors associated with excess adiposity.

Design, setting and participants: Cross-sectional survey of students aged 12–17 years (in school years 8–11) who completed the National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity survey in 2009–10, which included a web-based self-report questionnaire and height and weight measurements.

Main outcome measures: Overweight and obesity based on international standard body mass index (BMI) cut-offs for children and adolescents.

Results: Data were analysed for 12 188 students. Just under one in four students were either overweight (18%) or obese (5%). After adjusting for demographic and health-behaviour characteristics, males were more likely than females to be overweight or obese (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.07–1.40; P = 0.004), as were both low (OR, 1.67; 95% CI, 1.40–1.99; P < 0.001) and medium (OR, 1.33; 95% CI, 1.14–1.55; P < 0.001) socioeconomic position (SEP) students compared with high SEP students. Students engaging in low levels of physical activity (OR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.08–1.36; P = 0.001), more time in small-screen recreation (OR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.05–1.32; P = 0.005), and short sleep duration (OR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.05–1.41; P = 0.008) also had higher odds of being overweight or obese.

Conclusions: There is a need for interventions to reduce overweight and obesity during adolescence. Preventive measures should include a focus on facilitating physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour, as well as promoting adequate sleep, particularly among young people from lower SEP neighbourhoods who appear to be most susceptible.

  • Belinda C Morley1
  • Maree L Scully1
  • Philippa H Niven1
  • Anthony D Okely2
  • Louise A Baur3
  • Iain S Pratt4
  • Melanie A Wakefield1,0
  • on behalf of the NaSSDA Study Team*

  • 1 Centre for BehavIoural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 Interdisciplinary Educational Research Institute, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW.
  • 3 Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 4 Cancer Council Western Australia, Perth, WA.


The National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity Survey was jointly funded by state Cancer Councils through Cancer Council Australia, and by the National Heart Foundation of Australia. Melanie Wakefield is supported by an National Health and Medical Research Council Principal Research Fellowship. I-view was responsible for fieldwork coordination. We thank the school principals, teachers and students who participated in this study.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures. There was no involvement of the study sponsors in study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of data, the writing of the manuscript, or decision to submit for publication.

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