Childhood obesity needs action

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

03.What causes obesity?

In simple terms, overweight and obesity are the result of an energy imbalance, where more energy (kilojoules) is taken in than is used up. Anything that affects what children are eating or how much exercise they’re getting can potentially add to this imbalance.

Our obesogenic environment

One of the reasons why the obesity problem has reached epidemic proportions is the so-called ‘obesogenic’ (or ‘obesity-promoting’) environment we’re living in, which has come about as a result of technological, social, economic and environmental changes.

Many factors have been suggested as contributing to this obesogenic environment, including:

  • The increasing use of motor vehicles.
  • Increased time spent on a computer playing games and surfing the internet.
  • The lack of safe playing areas and other safety concerns.
  • Changes in family structure and work patterns so that parents are busier and may have less time to spend with their families and on meal preparation.
  • Easy access to kilojoule-laden foods and drinks.
  • The frequent promotion of these sorts of foods through television, the internet and other media.

Is your child overweight or obese?

Your child's body mass index (BMI) is an indicator of whether or not your child is overweight, and a useful tool is NSW Health's Children & Youth BMI Calculator.

Please note: BMI is only one way of measuring overweight and obesity, and it changes substantially with age in children. It's recommended that changes over time will provide more meaningful information. If you're worried about your child's weight, seek advice from a doctor (GP or paediatrician), dietitian or other health profession.

Who's responsible?

  • The federal health minister, Tony Abbott, has repeatedly said it’s parents who are ultimately responsible for what their kids eat. But a major obstacle for parents is the heavy marketing of unhealthy foods to children, which the World Health Organization has highlighted as a consistent factor in promoting weight gain and obesity.
  • Parents are battling to provide a healthy diet for their children, and the increasing pervasiveness of promotions targeting children — via the internet, in the supermarket or through TV advertising, for example — leaves parents feeling defeated at every turn. See Food marketing for details.
  • Our survey revealed that 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.

Lack of healthy choices

In order for parents to choose healthy foods for their children, healthy choices need to be available. But from what we've seen in some product categories, healthy kids' foods are in the minority.

Kids' lunchbox snacks

  • Only a quarter of the 100 or so products reviewed met all our nutrition criteria, with large numbers containing too much sugar or saturated fat.

Kids' breakfast cereals

  • Out of 150 breakfast cereals included in our last survey, the eight most sugary cereals were ones aimed at kids, all with the equivalent of two to three teaspoons of sugar in a serve and very little fibre.

See the full breakfast cereals article.

It’s no wonder 83% of our survey respondents thought the government should go beyond regulating food advertising to kids and also require manufacturers to make children’s food healthier (see our survey results for details).


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