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What Influences Weight Gain among Primary School Children in the UK?

Background and Rationale

The research question for this study is “What influences weight gain among primary school children in the UK?” It is essential to conduct a research in this area and come up with convincing explanation as to why the weight gain is a concern among the targeted population. Evidence by NHS Digital (2021) suggests that obesity levels among school-going children escalated by about 4.5% points, particularly between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 – the largest yearly upsurge since the commencement of the National Child Measurement Programme (NHS Digital 2021). Based on a report by the NHS Digital (formerly HSCIC) showed that obesity rates among four and five-year-olds increased from about 10% in 2019-2020 to nearly 14.5% in 2020-2021. Among year six learners whose ages ranged 10 and 11, weight gain prevalence intensified from 21% in 2019-2020 to more than 25.3% in 2021-2021 (NHS Digital 2021). The closest comparable data for this population are from 2009-2010, when weight gain rate was only about 18.6%. Consequently, this study will perform a literature review using thematic analysis in an attempt to respond to the research question. The key terms for this research are weight gain or obesity, which refers to excessive or abnormal accumulation of fat in the body to an extent that it becomes a health risk (Muhihi et al. 2013), and lifestyle, which is a person’s world view, values, way of life, and attitude (Muhihi et al. 2013). The chief argument for this study is that the lifestyle a child keeps, genetic makeup, and underlying health issues contribute significantly towards unnecessary weight gain among school-going children in the UK.

Methods of Data Collection

The most suitable way to respond to the research question is to seek information from relevant literature that address the topic. The search strategy entails finding peer-reviewed articles that addresses the topic. The inclusion criteria entails finding research papers that talk about the causes and effects of weight gain among primary school children. Thus, the selection process relies on key terms, which makes it possible to settle on the most appropriate research papers. The key terms that guide the search process, include obesity, weight gain, primary school children, lifestyle, physical exercise, and obesity among children in the UK. On the same note, searching particular databases help to identify the most suitable articles. The selected databases for this study include PsycInfo, Medline, ERIC, PubMed, CORE, and Science Open. However, the search process also take into account certain exclusion factors that make it possible to omit papers that are not relevant for this research. For example, the search process omits articles that do not address the issue of weight gain among primary school learners. Thus, the process employs critical appraisal to watchfully and systematically examine selected articles to determine their reliability. Careful selection resulted in the picking of appropriate literature that are likely to give the needed information for the research. The selection process adhered to ethical considerations, including avoiding violating copyrighted materials and engaging in ethical reporting to ensure the transmitted information is reliable and truthful.

Method of Data Analysis

The research utilizes a thematic analysis as the primary data analysis method because of the merits associated with the approach. The technique is an approach for analyzing data, often-qualitative data that encompasses searching a data set to recognize, assess, and report recurrent patterns (Nowell et al. 2017, p. 2). It is a technique for describing data, but also entails interpretation in the act of selecting codes and developing themes (Nowell et al. 2017, p. 2). The chief intention of a thematic analysis is to recognize themes in the data that are interesting or essential, and utilize the themes to address the study or come up with remarks concerning about an issue. Often, a thematic data analysis entails much more than merely giving a brief overview of the data. Typically, an effective thematic analysis is one that interprets data and builds a sense of it. Thematic analysis according to Kiger and Varpio (2020) is a flexible technique that permits a researcher to examine the data in many different perspectives. With thematic analysis, Kiger and Varpio (2020) argue, one can legitimately pay attention to analyzing meanings across the whole dataset, or alternatively the researcher can examine one particular component of an issue or phenomenon in detail. The data analysis technique is preferable in this case because it not require the in-depth technological and theoretical awareness of other qualitative methods, and tends to give a more reachable and reliable type of analysis, especially for researchers who have not gained much skills in the process (Nowell et al. 2017, p. 2). Thus, the many benefits associated with the thematic data analysis technique make it suitable for this task.

However, the study will use the thematic data, analysis takes into account some of the potential limitations associated with the technique. An example of a demerit according to Nowell et al. (2017, p. 2) is the absence of substantial literature compared to other approaches such as grounded theory, phenomenology, and ethnography. The limitation could make researchers who do not have much skill in this area to feel unconfident on how to perform a rigorous and effective thematic analysis.

Analysis and Discussion

An analysis of the selected papers reveals various themes and patterns that provide more information about the question under investigation. One of the common themes is that a child’s lifestyle is likely to determine their weight status. The other common theme in the articles is perinatal risks, which focuses on how pregnancy-related complications contribute towards obesity. The other recurring pattern is genetic effects and how that contribute towards weight gain. The fourth reemerging theme following the analysis of the articles is environmental factors and their impact on causing obesity. Finally, the fifth theme reemerging in the selected articles is underlying health condition. A similar feature in all the identified themes is that they contribute towards the development of weight gain among primary school children. However, this analysis focuses on three key themes that reoccur from the analysis – lifestyle, genetic factors, and underlying health conditions.

Primary children in the UK are likely to experience weight gain when they maintain certain lifestyles as opposed to others. One lifestyle factor that facilitates the development of obesity among primary school children is eating too much while spending little time engaging in physical exercises. Abduelkarem et al. (2020) inform that if one consumes large amounts of energy-giving items, especially sugars and fat, but do not indulge in physical activities or exercises to burn the fat, a large amount of the additional energy will be collected in the body in the form of fat. Exercising is essential to avoid weight gain because such activities enhances people’s energy expenditure, which contributes significantly towards helping them maintain an appropriate energy balance and to cast unnecessary weight (Baranowski et al. 2014, p. 19). Consequently, it is essential to guide children on what they should consume while ensuring that they engage in exercises as frequently as possible to enable them burn extra fats that could subject them to the health problem.

Furthermore, genetic factors significantly contribute towards weight gain among primary school children in the UK. Obesity according to the paper by Thaker (2017, p. 382) rarely emerges in families based on evident inheritance pattern prompted by alterations in a single gene. The widely common gene responsible for obesity is MC4R, which fuses with the melanocortin 4 receptor. Modifications in MC4R that reduce its functions are recognizable in low amounts often less than 5% of overweight people in various cultural groups (Thaker 2017, p. 383). Other scholars, including Kambondo and Sartorius (2018, p. 255) and Wake and Reeves (2012, p. 4) also support the notion that genetic factors could facilitate being overweight among children. For example, Kambondo and Sartorius (2018, p. 255) assert that obesity is an intricate, heritable condition facilitated by the interconnection of epigenetics, the environment, and genetics.  On their part, Wake and Reeves (2012, p. 4) contend that the escalating access to highly precise diagnostic apparatus for genetic assessment has enhanced the identification of various genets impacting the phenotype, particularly at the beginning of serious obesity. Hence, genetic factors is a key factor that lead children to gain additional weight unnecessarily, which requires researchers to come up with additional insight on how to address the problem.

The other reoccurring pattern from the analysis of the selected articles is underlying health problems, an issue that leads many children in the UK to develop obesity. In some people based on the article by Badawi et al. (2013, p. 33) obesity can develop due to health conditions such as Cushing syndrome, an illness that leads the body to generate excessive hormone cortisol over time. The other condition that can cause a child to become obese is Prader-Willi syndrome, which is associated with alterations in the chromosomes (Badawi et al. 2013, p. 34). However, other medical problems such as childhood arthritis can deter engagement in physical exercises, which may cause weight gain (Badawi et al. 2013, p. 34). Thus, being able to address these health problems diminish the possibilities of developing harmful weight gain.


The study identifies weight gain to be a major concern among primary school learners in the UK. Examining various sources and analyzing them using thematic data analysis informs that the rate of obesity among school-going children has increased significantly over the years. The escalation suggests that something needs to happen to salvage the situation that could get out of hand if no effective measures are put in place. The analysis of the various sources helps to identify five recurring themes that show the factors that lead primary school children in the UK to gain weight unnecessarily. They include embracing inappropriate lifestyle, perinatal risks, genetic factors, environmental factors, and certain health problems. However, this study chooses to emphasize on how three of the five factors lead children to gain additional weight. Children are at risk of developing obesity when they eat too much without participating in physical activities. They are also likely to develop the condition when they inherit genetic elements that increase their likelihood, and also when they live with certain health problems. Thus, parents, health practitioners, and children themselves need to take measures that would protect them against becoming overweight.

Reference List

Abduelkarem, R, Sharif, I, Bankessli, G, Kamal, A, Kulhasan, M, & Hamrouni, M 2020, ‘Obesity and its associated risk factors among school-aged children in Sharjah, UAE’, PLoS ONE, vol. 15, no. 6, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0234244m

Badawi, N, Barakat, A, El-Sherbini, S, & Fawzy, H 2013, ‘Prevalence of overweight and obesity in primary school children in Port Said city’, The Gazette of the Egyptian Paediatric Association, vol. 61, no. 1, pp. 31-36.

Baranowski, T, et al. 2014, ‘School year versus summer differences in child weight gain: A narrative review’, Childhood Obesity, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 18-24.

Kambondo, G, & Sartorius, B 2018, ‘Risk factors for obesity and overfat among primary school children in Mashonaland West Province, Zimbabwe’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 15, pp. 249-263.

Kiger, M, & Varpio, L 2020, ‘Thematic analysis of qualitative data: AMEE guide no. 131, Medical Teacher, https://doi.org/10.1080/0142159X.2020.1755030

Muhihi, A, et al. 2013, ‘Prevalence and determinants of obesity among primary school children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’, Archives of Public Health, vol. 71, no. 26, https://archpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/0778-7367-71-26

NHS Digital 2021, Significant increase in obesity rates among primary-aged children, latest statistics show. Available from: < https://digital.nhs.uk/news/2021/significant-increase-in-obesity-rates-among-primary-aged-children-latest-statistics-show > [Accessed 3 May 2022]

Nowell, L, Norris, J, & White, D, & Moules, N 2017, ‘Thematic analysis: Striving to meet the trustworthiness criteria’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, vol. 16, pp. 1-13.

Thaker, V 2017, ‘Genetic and epigenetic causes of obesity’, Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 379-405.

Wake, Y, & Reeves, S 2012, ‘Factors that influence obesity in children at primary schools in England and France’, International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 2-9.

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