Elements of effective population surveillance systems for monitoring obesity in school aged children

Louise L. Hardy, Seema Mihrshahi

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The continuing high prevalence of child overweight and obesity globally means that it remains the most common chronic health condition in children. Population-based child obesity surveillance systems are critical for monitoring trends in obesity and related behaviours, and determining the overall effect of child obesity prevention strategies. Effective surveillance systems may vary in methods, scope, purpose, objectives, and attributes, and our aim was to provide an overview of child obesity surveillance systems globally, and to highlight main components and other types of survey data that can enhance our understanding of child obesity. Measures of adiposity, including body mass index and waist circumference are essential, but effective surveillance must also include measures of weight-related behaviours, including diet, physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep. While objective measures are desirable, the variability in psychometrics and rapid evolution of wearable devices is potentially problematic for examining long-term trends over time and how behaviours may change. Questionnaires on self-reported behaviours are often used but also have limitations. Because the determinants of obesity are not only functioning at the individual level, some measures of the broader environmental and commercial determinants, including the built and food environments, are useful to guide upstream policy decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6812
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • child
  • adolescent
  • surveillance
  • nutrition
  • physical activity
  • sedentary behaviour
  • sleep

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