Childhood obesity plateaus

Posted by Josette Dunn on 14th January 2011

Childhood obesity appears to have plateaued in NSW, but 23 per cent of school children are still above the healthy weight range, according to a University of Sydney survey released this week.The results of the Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey of over 8,000 NSW schoolchildren were similar to a survey carried out in 2004.

Lead researcher, Dr Louise Hardy, said the findings were promising and suggested that current investments to reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain were beginning to have an effect.

“It’s wonderful news that the rapid rise in childhood obesity appears to have started to plateau,” Dr Hardy said.

“But the level of childhood obesity is still unacceptably high, with a lot of children facing significant health problems into the future.”

Other key findings from the survey include;

* The majority of children do not eat enough vegetables, and less than half of high school students eat enough fruit. And foods which were once considered treats, or ‘occasional’ foods were being eaten very frequently;

* Up to 18 per cent of students drink at least one cup of soft drinks everyday , a third of homes have soft drink readily available to children;

* Up to 36 per cent of high school students have TVs in their bedrooms. Approximately 70 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls spend too much time recreationally in front of screens. Almost a quarter of children regularly eat dinner in front of the TV instead of at a table;

* Physical activity levels have decreased since 2004 with less than two-thirds of school children meeting the recommended level of physical activity. One-third of students are not adequately fit, increasing their risk of heart disease;

* Almost 50 per cent of primary school students are driven to school and many students, especially girls, do not how to run, jump, kick, throw or catch properly.

“A long term approach is required to change the environment we live in, so that it is easier for parents and children to change their behaviour,” Dr Hardy said.

“Investment in changing weight related behaviours needs to come from all sections of the community.

“Keeping a healthy weight and reducing children’s risk of becoming overweight in today’s food and technology driven society is challenging. Assisting parents on how they can think about setting rules on how much junk food and soft drinks children can have, or setting rules for watching TV or using computers.

“We need to work on getting more children walking or cycling to school. We need to remember that 1.5 km is a 15 min, short, walkable distance – not one for the car.

“Improvements need to continue with providing a good public transport system, preventing unhealthy food advertising to children, public access to un-bottled water, exciting green spaces for young people to play in.”

The research, funded by NSW Health, was carried out by the Physical Activity, Nutrition Obesity Research Group at the University of Sydney. Similar studies were carried out in 1985, 1997 and 2004.