PHRC Phase 1 (2005-2011) projects – Projects related to diet and obesity

B3-07: What scope is there for averting the adverse health effects of obesity? Investigating the role of physical activity

Principal investigator

Christine Power, Institute of Child Health, UCL


A substantial proportion of the British population is now at risk of obesity-related ill-health. Policies to halt the rising trend in obesity are important, but action is needed simultaneously for the generations already affected. A key public health priority is therefore to minimise obesity-related health consequences.

Aims, methods and contribution

This project builds directly on the completed obesity project (B1-06) and seeks to identify whether health consequences of weight gain and obesity are modifiable by physical activity. For example, is an overweight adult who takes up regular physical activity at lower risk of obesity-related disease than one who persists with less healthy activity patterns? The timing of potential modifying factors will be a focus, to establish whether “it is never too late” to alter health outcomes.

We will utilise our enhanced access to the biomedical follow-up of the 1958 British birth cohort, a large prospective study of all born in one week in March 1958 and followed to age 44. The 1958 birth cohort is a rich dataset to use to study obesity, as previous work, such as on the tracking of obesity with age, demonstrates. We will investigate whether health consequences associated with obesity, such as hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, chronic pain and perceived poor health, might be minimised by physical activity. Information will be used on body mass index, socioeconomic position and physical activity, spanning from childhood to adulthood in relation to disease risk in mid-life.

Focusing on the effect of different levels of individual behaviour on the obesity and health outcome association, the study offers an innovative approach to evaluation, but without the long-term wait for delivery of information associated with intervention studies. It would allow identification of modifiable factors to reduce the diverse health consequences of obesity, and could inform the development of interventions within the consortium.

August 2009 - March 2011 (20 months)