Describing studies on childhood obesity determinants by Socio-Ecological Model level: a scoping review to identify gaps and provide guidance for future research


Childhood obesity is increasing worldwide and is a major public health concern once children with obesity are at higher risk for several diseases and are often stigmatized. Children with obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity with greater needs of healthcare. Determinants of childhood obesity might be grouped in five levels according to the Socio-Ecological Model (SEM): individual, interpersonal, institutional, community and policies. This scoping review emerged from the need to identify which determinants of childhood obesity have been more frequently studied (and how) and which require more investigation. The main objectives were to quantify studies on the determinants of childhood obesity by SEM level addressed, to identify gaps in the literature regarding the studied SEM level(s), to describe the studies’ characteristics and to provide guidance for SEM levels that need further investigation. This scoping review follows the five-stage protocol methodology proposed by Arksey and O’Malley in 2005. PubMed database was systematically searched, and hand-searches also took place. The search yielded 975 results from which 552 were excluded after title and abstract reading. The remaining 423 results were fully read and information about methodologic aspects, namely study design, sample size, sample constitution (children, dyads or/and parents) and children’s age as well as the SEM level determinants addressed was retrieved. Despite the consensus about the appropriateness of SEM as a framework to comprehensively examine childhood obesity determinants, studies addressing all SEM levels determinants jointly or the policies level determinants alone were not found. Other gaps shown were: the small number of studies that included the policies level determinants alongside determinants from other levels (N = 10) and studies using cohorts study design (ranging from 2 to 28 per SEM level). These gaps should be considered when planning future research.

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This work was funded by the Foundation for the Science and Technology, Portugal (PTDC/DTP-SAP/1520/2014 and grant SFRH/BD/133140/2017). The authors would like to thank Diogo Costa, post-doc researcher at the Research Centre for Anthropology and Health of the University of Coimbra, for his intellectual input and contributions for the final version of the manuscript.

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