Child obesity reversal 'possible'

The number of obese and overweight children Victoria is on the way down. Photo / Thinkstock
The number of obese and overweight children Victoria is on the way down. Photo / Thinkstock

A Victorian study shows it's possible to turn the tide on childhood obesity in Australia, an expert says, although he admits there is a long way to go.

The number of obese and overweight children in the state is on the way down, according to the study from Deakin University.

The study analysed Victorian maternal and child health service data on 225,430 children aged between two and three-and-a-half from 1999 to 2007.

It found that the rates of overweight and obesity dropped by 3.1 per cent for three-and-half-year-olds and 1.1 per cent for two-year-olds.

Deakin obesity's Professor Boyd Swinburn says the university's results show that it is possible to turn the tide on obesity.

But the levels of childhood obesity are still high, he added.

"These results show promising signs that not only is overweight and obesity declining in some groups but that it may be possible to slow, even reverse, the widespread increase in obesity seen in recent years," Prof Swinburn said.

"There has been a lot of media awareness of childhood obesity over the last decade and there has also been a range of initiatives promoting good nutrition and active play in early childhood settings in Victoria."

However, Prof Swinburn warned against thinking that the battle to reduce childhood obesity was over and renewed calls for stronger policies to support parents by restricting junk food marketing aimed at kids.

"The marketing of junk food to children which drives the pester power is still an enormous force undermining parents' attempts to create healthy diets for their children and regulatory action by government is long overdue," he said.

The study by Deakin's World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention appears to contradict national figures released last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which acknowledged concerns over rising obesity.

"The recent trend in obesity and excess body weight among Australian children has caused some concern," the ABS said.

It said life expectancy at age 20 could fall by 1.7 years for males (back to 2001 levels) and 2.2 years for females (back to 1997 levels).


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