Preventing obesity in early childhood – evidence briefs on what we’ve learnt

EPOCH CRE is proud to release five evidence briefs, summarising the key findings from our research (2016-2021) and what they mean for policy and practice.

One in four children is affected by overweight or obesity by the time they start school.  The early childhood period is an opportune, but largely untapped, period for intervention.

The NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in the Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood (CRE-EPOCH) is a unique collaboration of leading researchers, practitioners and policymakers in Australia, New Zealand and England.  Funded from 2016, this collaboration has produced world-leading policy- and practice-relevant research to prevent obesity in children aged 0 to 5 years.


With its first tranche of funding concluding at the end of 2021, CRE-EPOCH has filled some key research gaps on approaches to prevent obesity in early childhood.  The key findings and implications for policy and practice are summarised in the following evidence briefs:

  1. Analysing interventions to prevent obesity in early childhood

The first prospective meta-analysis of large, high-quality trials evaluating obesity prevention interventions starting in pregnancy or infancy.  This work provides Level 1 evidence on the effectiveness of early obesity prevention interventions.  The published papers provide further insights on key factors to consider when designing future trials.

  1. Childhood obesity: why early and sustained prevention matters

Researchers developed the EPOCH health economic model which accurately predicts body mass index (BMI) trajectories and quality of life from age 4 to 15 years. An adapted version accounts for socioeconomic positions.  The two models will assist policymakers to identify the future impacts of early intervention, the most cost-effective intervention approaches and the population groups who will benefit most from interventions.

  1. Building the economic case for preventing obesity in early childhood

This program of research identified the direct healthcare costs associated with early childhood obesity; the costs and benefits of early childhood obesity prevention interventions; and provided cost-effectiveness evidence.  Early obesity prevention could potentially deliver significant and immediate healthcare expenditure savings to the Australian health system.

  1. Integrating early childhood obesity prevention into health services

INFANT and Healthy Beginnings are two early obesity prevention interventions that were implemented at scale and integrated into health services in Victoria and NSW.  This work provided evidence on key enablers to translate proven programs into health services and at scale.

  1. National leadership needed to prevent obesity in early childhood

Australia urgently needs a coordinated national policy infrastructure for obesity prevention.  States and territories governments are eager for a National Obesity Strategy; the public similarly showed strong support for broad policies to address childhood obesity. These studies show the importance of national leadership in obesity prevention and how population policy approaches could be applied.

CRE-EPOCH hosted a national forum on how Australia can advance obesity prevention from early life.  Hear leading academics present the key findings and how senior policymakers from across Australia responded in this recording.

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