The prevalence of obesity and overweight is increasing globally. Frequently coexisting with under-nutrition in developing countries, obesity is a major contributor to chronic disease, and will become a serious healthcare burden especially in countries with a larger percentage of youthful population. 35% of the population of Saudi Arabia are under the age of 16, and adult dietary preferences are often established during early childhood years. The objective was to examine the dietary habits in relation to body-mass-index (BMI) and waist circumference (W_C), together with exercise and sleep patterns in a cohort of male and female Saudi school children, in order to ascertain whether dietary patterns are associated with obesity phenotypes in this population.
The overall prevalence of overweight and obesity was 12.2% and 27.0% respectively, with boys having higher obesity rates than girls (P ≤ 0.001). W_C and BMI was positively correlated with sugar-sweetened carbonated beverage (SSCB) intake in boys only. The association between male BMI and SSCB consumption was significant in a multivariate regression model (P < 0.0001). SSCB intake was positively associated with poor dietary choices in both males and females. Fast food meal intake, savory snacks, iced desserts and total sugar consumption correlated with SSCB intake in both boys (r = 0.39, 0.13, 0.10 and 0.52 respectively, P < 0.001) and girls (r = 0.45, 0.23, 0.16 and 0.55 respectively, P < 0.001). Older children reported eating significantly less fruit and vegetables than younger children; and less eggs, fish and cereals. Conversely, consumption of SSCB and sugar-sweetened hot beverages were higher in older versus younger children (P < 0.001). BMI and W_C were negatively correlated with hours of night-time sleep and exercise in boys, but only with night time sleep in girls, who also showed the lowest frequency of exercise.
A higher intake of SSCB is associated with poor dietary choices. Male SSCB intake correlates with a higher W_C and BMI. Limiting exposure to SSCB could therefore have a large public health impact.