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MJA

Prevalence and perceptions of overweight and obesity in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal young people in custody

Med J Aust 2013; 199 (4): 266-270. || doi: 10.5694/mja13.10407

Summary

Objective: To describe prevalence of and risk factors for overweight, obesity and self-perceived weight gain of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australian young people in custody at baseline and over 12 months of follow-up.

Design, setting and participants: Prospective cohort study of youths in custody in New South Wales, from August 2009, with follow-up at 3, 6 and 12 months.

Main outcome measures: Body mass index at baseline, categorised as overweight or obese using international cut-points; waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) at baseline, categorised as increased metabolic risk (≥ 0.5) or low metabolic risk (< 0.5); and self-perceived weight change at follow-up.

Results: At baseline, 452 youths were incarcerated, 361 (79.9%) consented to participate, and complete anthropometry measurements were taken for 303 (67.0%). At 3, 6 and 12 months, there were 231 (76.2%), 158 (52.1%) and 143 (47.2%) participants, respectively. Two-hundred and sixty-four (87.1%) were male, 151 (49.8%) were Aboriginal, and 145 (47.9%) had been incarcerated for < 3 months at baseline. One hundred and forty-five (47.9%) were overweight or obese and 112 (37.0%) had a WHtR of ≥ 0.5 at baseline. However, only 72 (24.1%) perceived themselves as overweight at baseline, and 154 (71.6%) perceived a weight increase since incarceration despite improvements in diet and exercise. Longer incarceration time was strongly associated with overweight and obesity in Aboriginal youths at baseline and with self-perceived weight gain in non-Aboriginal youths at follow-up.

Conclusions: Overweight and obesity were highly prevalent but poorly recognised in young people in custody. A longer incarceration time had the strongest association with overweight obesity and self-reported weight gain. From a population health and policy perspective, changes to the liberal food environment and the approach to increasing physical activity in custody are warranted.

  • Leigh Haysom1
  • Devon Indig1
  • Elizabeth Moore1
  • Louise L Hardy2
  • Paul A van den Dolder3

  • 1 Justice and Forensic Mental Health Network, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 3 Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, Wollongong, NSW.


Acknowledgements: 

This study was funded by the Justice and Forensic Mental Health Network and the Centre for Aboriginal Health (NSW Health). We thank staff from Juvenile Justice NSW and Justice Health who provided operational support for the 2009 NSW Young People in Custody Health Survey, and the young people who kindly participated.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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