By now, Aussies are no strangers to the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation.
It seems like almost every week, there’s a new program on TV or a study telling us that we’re getting fatter than ever.
And the statistics don’t lie. According to the latest reports from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, nearly 30% of Australian adults are obese.
But in our efforts to eat healthier and get more daily exercise, it’s often easy to forget the silent victims of this national crisis: our kids. Studies show that a quarter of Australian children are currently either overweight or obese.
Are we alone in this crisis? Not at all. One research team found that, worldwide, over one-third of all people are considered overweight or obese.
America has a more advanced problem than we do, with nearly 40% of their adult population meeting the criteria for obesity alone. And in the UK, 1 in 3 children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese.
But if we don’t want to catch up with these other developed countries, it’s imperative that we as a nation take drastic action to reverse this fast-advancing epidemic.
Why is this happening to our kids?
We know that as parents, kids eat what we eat. We stand as the example in our homes and our communities. So it’s understandable that children will naturally copy their parents’ habits and develop the same health issues.
But we’re also seeing a trend of unhealthy behaviours in general, regardless of the weight of Australian parents.
Kids are consuming an excess of high fat and sugary foods, spending more time playing video games and using electronics, rarely exercising or playing sports, and sitting in front of the television after school.
Other factors are also contributing to the crisis, such as:
- More food is prepared away from home, and as a result, parents do not know how many calories their kids are actually consuming
- High-calorie foods and drinks are more readily available
- The marketing of these products has increased
- The role of physical education in the school curriculum has reduced
Recent research from the UK has suggested that children are most likely to gain weight during the school holidays, where treats are in greater abundance and leisure activities often involve little physical movement.
But not all obese kids are guilty of indulging in these behaviours, nor are their parents. According to the Victoria state government, “some rare gene disorders cause severe childhood obesity” and a few children are more susceptible to weight gain due to a combination of different genetic factors outside of their control.
If parents suspect that there is a family tendency to gain weight easily, it’s critical they learn to make healthier decisions for their kids
What are the implications?
Children who are obese don’t just have a tough time on the playground. They are at a greater risk of developing serious health issues such as diabetes, eating disorders, liver and respiratory problems and sleep apnoea.
And it has been found that 80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults. This can set obese children up for a lifetime of medical problems and general life dissatisfaction, and nobody wants that for their kids.
It’s also worth considering the social challenges that come along with being an overweight child. Obese adolescents could be more likely to have low self-esteem, which may impact on the ability to make friends and perform well at school.
Is it all bad news?
While this information may be frightening for some, particularly the parents of overweight or obese children, good news is on the horizon.
New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals the number of Queensland kids who are obese has fallen for the first time since 2007. If other states follow suit, then we could be in good stead to beat the epidemic.
Also, the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University has recently made a controversial proposal, that Australian schools weigh students every two years.
While some parents may feel this is invasive, a drastic measure like state or school intervention could potentially help kids whose health is being compromised by their parents’ actions. It could also help to better educate parents on living a healthier lifestyle.
Whatever goes ahead, it’s clear that researchers are brainstorming ways to make some serious changes. But for now, the responsibility squarely lies on us.
How can we reverse this?
To help children maintain a healthy weight, introduce positive lifestyle changes into their daily and weekly routines.
Small measures like walking to school instead of driving, or having a time limit on hours spent using technology in the evenings, can make a massive difference.
Your kids might complain now, but as adults they may thank you!
Buying less processed food reduces the amount of sugar and additives your kids consume, while cooking with whole foods helps your child develop a positive relationship with real, healthy food.
If you’re unsure where to start, that’s okay. It’s not easy making drastic lifestyle changes, particularly when there seems to be so much conflicting information out there.
But you’re not alone. A number of resources are available for those who need help; here are a few resources to get you started:
The information in this article is not medical advice. If you have questions about health and nutrition, refer to your child’s GP.