Childhood obesity needs action

Obesity in children has reached epidemic proportions.
 
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  • Updated:22 Sep 2006
 

01.Introduction

Toddlers eating

In brief

  • Obesity in children has reached epidemic proportions. The intense marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children contributes to the problem.
  • Children need better protection from unhealthy food marketing, and a large proportion of people we surveyed think the government should help.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2006 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Childhood obesity — the alarming facts

  • Between 1985 and 1997, the prevalence of obesity trebled among young Australians, and numbers have continued to increase at an alarming rate.
  • It’s been estimated that one in five Australian children are overweight or obese. Recently published figures from NSW suggest it could be as many as one in four.
  • Obese children have a 25–50% chance of remaining obese in adulthood, putting them at greater risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease — conditions that place a substantial burden on the health system as well as on the individuals affected.
  • Dire predictions have been made that today’s children might be the first generation to die at an earlier age than their parents.
  • Probably the most immediate consequence of being overweight, as perceived by the children themselves, is social discrimination, associated with poor self-esteem and depression.

Our survey — key findings

CHOICE wanted to find out what ordinary people think is causing this obesity epidemic, and also what they think can be done to turn it around — and whether this gels with what the food and advertising industries and government would have us believe.

Of our survey respondents:

  • 77% were of the opinion that poor diet was causing more Australian children to be overweight (more than the 65% who named exercise reasons), and 47% of them specifically mentioned too much junk food as a cause.
  • 65% thought government should step in to restrict TV advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks to children, and a further 24% wanted it stopped completely.
  • 83% thought the government should go beyond regulating food advertising to kids and also require manufacturers to make children’s food healthier.

Parents are willing to acknowledge that they need to do more to prevent children becoming overweight, but 69% think the government needs to do more too.

See the results tables for details.

Take action

If you think the government should regulate the marketing of unhealthy food to children, help push the agenda by sending a letter to the federal health minister, Tony Abbott. Click here to take action.

What’s being done to tackle childhood obesity?

  • The Federal Government has contributed funding towards a national child nutrition and physical activity survey to collect crucial information that will help develop strategies to fight obesity and chronic disease; however, the results won’t be available until late 2007.
  • New beverage industry guidelines could see sugary soft drinks gone from primary school canteens, and halt the marketing of these products directly to children under 12. But voluntary guidelines can only achieve so much.
  • The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is set to review Children’s Television Standards. This should touch on the role of food advertising in childhood obesity but the process could take up to 18 months to complete.
  • A new voluntary food and beverage advertising and marketing communications code has been proposed. The advertising and food industries say it will deliver world’s best practice in industry self-regulation but CHIOCE thinks it’s unlikely it will adequately protect children. Food marketing regulation has more on this.

CHOICE verdict

Given the grave nature of childhood obesity, CHOICE thinks immediate and urgent precautionary measures are warranted, in the form of government regulation of food marketing to children across all media.

  • The current environment of unhealthy food promotion contradicts public health messages and guidelines, and is undermining public health and parenting efforts to encourage healthy eating.
  • Regulating food marketing to children will provide better protection for those children whose parents have so far succumbed to the pester power and toddler tantrums for chocolate, not fruit.
  • A system that favours self-regulation of the food advertising industry is unlikely to provide parents with the support they need in the battle to control their children’s diets.
  • Regulation may even encourage manufacturers to develop healthier kids’ foods.
 
 

 

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