Cutting childhood obesity a 'priority' for NSW

3 October 2016
Childhood Obesity A Global Concern
Childhood Obesity A Global Concern

Overweight and obese children face health issues such as diabetes and heart disease, which impact on the quality their lives and can cause death, according to New South Wales' latest Premier’s Annual Priority Data Report

Premier Mike Baird has named reducing childhood obesity a NSW government priority.

Premier Baird has prioritised his concerns about overweight and obese children. The Priority Data Report details Mr Baird's aim to reduce childhood overweight and obesity from 21.5 percent in 2014​ to 16.5 percent by 2025, which would see 62,000 fewer children in NSW obese. 

The Premier's Annual Health Report currently identifies around a quarter of all children as obese, and is an indicator of progress on reducing childhood obesity by five percent over 10 years.

The report found that children from low and middle socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to be in the overweight or obese BMI categories (33.7 percent and 23.4 percent respectively), compared with children from high socio-economic backgrounds (19.3 percent).

Overweight and obese data also showed that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds have a higher risk of psychological and social problems, such as discrimination, victimisation and bullying a as result of being overweight and obese.

The Priority Report data shows without intervention weight gain in Australia is moving towards epidemic proportions.

A NSW Dept of Health Report released in September 2016 concluded that contemporary diet and lifestyle are major factors contributing to childhood obesity. 

The NSW Health Minister, Mrs Jillian Skinner supported the Premier's Priority Report's target, which was established in 2015, stating that while it is a "tall order", it is doable. 

However, Mrs Skinner added a word of caution, saying parents' perceptions are a key factor with many parents finding it difficult to identify if their children have a weight problem.

"Generally everyone has put on weight so it changes what you see," Mrs Skinner said. "Changing community standards means that overweight children are being seen as the normal.

Lifestyle and diet, and parental perceptions of children's healthy weight are seen as major contributing factors in chldhood overweight and obesity issues.

The Healthy Children Initiative said this range of complex factors will require a systematic approach across multiple settings.

NSW Healthy Eating and Active Living Strategy 2013-2018 provides a framework for government agencies and key stakeholders to support children's healthy and active lifestyles. 

The Healthy Eating and Acrive Living Strategy revealed that only about five percent of children consume the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables. The high consumption of fast foods and soft drinks are significent factors in the increase of childhood obesity.

More exercise and healthier diets 

Nina Nytrai, former Regional Coordinator of the Active After-School Communities (AASC) program said the disengagement in active lifestyles in favour of digital pastimes by young people is a big part of the problem. 

"Whereas active lifestyles and sport were a normal part of life 20 years ago, the digital age has seen a big change with children requiring specialist programs to encourage them to take part in an active lifestyle." 

Credit: Gocamps.com.au

Whilst lamenting the federal government’s phasing out of the Active After-School program in 2014, Ms Nytrai is applauds the NSW Premier's Mr Baird's iniatives to encourage children to be engaged in healthy lifestyles.  

The Director of the NSW Office of Preventative Health, Professor Chris Rissel said the government was encouraging exercise and a better diet. 

"Having children eating fruit and vegetables and being active are government goals," Professor Rissel said.  

"We want to make healthy normal. So that people do healthy things as normal behaviour and not default to the junk food option."

Australia is in the upper demographic of global obesity ranking. World Atlas ranks Australia 26th in the 29 most overweight and obese nations.  

Dr Kean-Seng Lim of the NSW Australian Medical Association warns that obese children usually become obese adults. 

Research, Dr Lim states, indicates childhood obesity and severe obesity will result in higher childhood and adult rates of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, with an increased strain on the health system and healthcare costs.

With government and agency concern about the effects of childhood overweight and obesity government initiatives will benefit from the support of parents and caregivers who are encouraged to understand childhood obesity risks, and to model healthy eating and activities.