The prevalence of childhood obesity in Australia began increasing in the 1970s, and by 2007-08 around 8 per cent of children (5 to 17 year olds) were estimated to be obese, and 17 per cent overweight . Most of the growth in childhood obesity occurred up until he mid 1990s, with recent research suggesting it might have leveled off sometime since 1995. Despite government and community focus on obesity prevention over recent decades —as far back as the 1980s the ‘Life. Be in it’ campaign sought to influence levels of activity among Australians — the medical literature suggests the current level of obesity among Australian children is too high. Childhood obesity is associated with a range of health problems, emerging in childhood and later adult life. These include psychosocial problems such as social discrimination and reduced self-esteem, and physical health problems such as type 2 diabetes and risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. The prevalence of childhood obesity in Australia has been increasing since the 1970s, particularly in the decade from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s (Norton et al. 2006). While government and community focus on obesity increased from the mid 1990s,broader preventative health programs focusing on physical activity and nutrition date from the 1980s (for example, the iconic ‘Life. Be in it’ campaign and the National Better Health Program (Lin and Robinson 2005)). In 1997, the National Health and Medical Research Council released Acting on Australia’s Weight: a Strategic Plan for the Prevention of Overweight and Obesity(NHMRC 1997). In many cases the evidence of the links between the factors that cause and childhood obesity itself are ambiguous,confounding or non-existent. The following broad conclusions are drawn:
- Australian children’s energy intake appears to have risen since the 1980s. Australian studies have shown a link between soft drinks, the associated increase in energy intake, and childhood obesity — although the size of the effect is small.
- Incidental exercise among Australian children appears to have declined, although organized physical activity might not have.
- Children spend more time watching television and using computers and video games than recommended by health authorities, but research suggests the contribution of these sedentary activities to childhood obesity is modest.
- Australian children are exposed to a relatively high number of advertisements for energy-dense nutrient-poor foods compared to overseas children. However, while international evidence shows a link between advertising and knowledge and preferences, it is difficult to isolate the effect of advertising on energy intake and thus body weight.
Two recent national surveys of childhood overweight and obesity reveal similar results,except for obesity rates for male children. According to the latest National Health Survey (NHS) for 2007-08 (ABS 2009a), 75 per cent of children were not overweight or obese. The proportion of children classified as overweight was 17 per cent with a slightly higher prevalence of females (18 per cent) than males (16 per cent). Overall, 8per cent of children were classified as obese, with a significantly higher prevalence for males(10 per cent) than females (6 per cent)
The 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey(National Children’s Survey) (CSIRO and University of South Australia 2008a) reported similar results, with 72 per cent of children not overweight or obese. The proportion of children classified as overweight was 17 per cent, with a slightly higher