Childhood obesity, new research in Australia as US rate soars

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd May 2016

ObesityA centre dedicated to researching and fighting childhood obesity in children aged 0-5 years has opened at the University of Sydney.

The ‘Centre for Research Excellence in the Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood’ was established with AUD $2.4 million in funding from the Australian federal government.

Professor Louise Baur A.M., Department of The Children’s Hospital at Westmead’s Clinical School in Sydney has been appointed leader of the centre and says she will be guiding a team of global investigators in bridging the current gaps in research.

“At only five years old, 1 in 5 Australian children are overweight or obese, which is quite a startling figure. This may have implications for the rest of their life because early childhood is a period when physical inactivity and poor eating habits become established,” Professor Baur said.

“Previous studies have shown us that larger body size and rapid growth in the first two years predict the development of obesity, both in later childhood and in adulthood but that if we intervene in the early years of life, when biology is most responsive to change, we are more likely to have sustained effects on health,” she said.

“Our project aim is to target children in these early years before unhealthy habits are set in place and develop new methods of intervention that will lead to physical change (BMI), behavioural change and in time, policy change,” Professor Baur said.

Childhood obesity remains on the rise in the US

Meanwhile, in the US, a new study has found childhood obesity rates are still on the rise despite heavy investment in healthy lifestyle campaigns.

Published online on the 26 April 20216 by the Obesity journal, scientists from the Duke Clinical Research Institute in North Carolina discovered between 2013 – 14, 33.4 per cent of children aged between 2 and 19 were overweight. Among those, 17.4 per cent were considered obese.

Researchers said these figures were similar to statistics reported in 20011 – 2012 and showed that childhood obesity in the US has been increasing from 1999 – 2014.

Lead author of the study, Dr Ashley Skinner from DCRI said the most disheartening finding was an increase in “serve obesity” with 2.4 per cent of US children fitting into this category.

“An estimated 4.5 million children and adolescents have severe obesity and they will require new and intensive efforts to steer them toward a healthier course,” Skinner said.

“Studies have repeatedly shown that obesity in childhood is associated with worse health and shortened lifespans as adults,” she said.

Skinner said the study had its limitations, relying solely on two-year data. She however believes the data used was a broader source than those use in studies showing obesity rates are declining in certain US population groups.

“We don’t want the findings to cause people to become frustrated and disheartened,” Skinner said. “This is really a population health problem that will require changes across the board — food policy, access to health care, school curriculums that include physical education, community and local resources in parks and sidewalks. A lot of things put together can work,” she said.