Childhood obesity: the shocking stats every parent must see

Friday 3 July 2015
  • Kids party food
    Pretty, colourful food isn't always the most nutritional

Weight. It’s a very sensitive subject, especially when it comes to kids.

There’s really nothing wrong with a bit of puppy fat. Kids grow at different rates and come in all different shapes and sizes, whatever age they are. It is a delicate issue however when the words ‘child’ and ‘overweight’ are used in the same sentence.

We all know that exercise and healthy eating are important for our kids. But unfortunately, with obesity at an all-time high, the facts and figures would suggest that Australia is struggling to fight this serious health problem. 

And it’s affecting our kids.

Obesity in Australia

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), two in three (63%) Australian adults can be classed as overweight or obese

What’s more, a recent obesity update produced by the OECD has shown that one in four Australians are obese. Now that’s not just slightly overweight, or needing to lose 5kg. That’s obese with an extremely high body mass index (BMI) and at major risk of developing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers. 

Seriously scary stuff.

So what does this mean for our children? 

The health and fitness of Australian children

Obesity in Aussie children is a widespread national health problem and it’s on the rise.

AIHW stats show that one in four (25%) Australian children are overweight or obese.

Perhaps an even more worrying issue as highlighted by the Dietitians Association of Australia, is that obese children in Australia have a 25-50% chance of becoming obese adults. Evidence that the habits you learn when you’re young really do stay with you. Or are at least hard to kick.

If certain behaviours don’t change before adulthood, that’s when their health truly is at risk.

What are the causes?

It all boils down to what goes in their mouth, and whether they’re active enough to burn it off.

Though that’s not to say you need to send them running around the garden every time they eat a lolly. 

It’s the long-term eating habits and sedentary behaviour of our kids which if not kept in check, leads to excess energy (or calories) being stored as fat.

Too much bad food

National nutritional reports show that Aussie children are eating more saturated fat and sugar than ever before. And too much of it! 

Eating too much extra or ‘treat’ food – that’s cakes, biscuits, soft drinks, chips; generally the stuff that’s high in calories and low in nutrients – and not eating enough fruit and veg were also key findings.

Another shocker is that extra foods, which are not classified as part of the essential nutrients you need in your daily diet, amount to an average of 41% of a child’s daily energy intake per day. 

That’s nearly half of a child’s energy intake coming from naughty ‘treat’ or ‘junk’ food that they essentially don’t need if they’re getting the right amounts of nutrients and energy from the other main food groups. 

Consequently, if this excess energy isn’t used up… we know what happens.

Understandably, it’s mighty tough to know how to get a healthy balance. But that’s where the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating comes in handy. 

It’s a pretty awesome reference point and helps to show exactly what you should be dishing up each day. Check it out!

Just remember, when it comes to the ‘treat’ foods, sticking to only sometimes and in small amounts is the way to go.

Too little exercise

Kids (and adults) need to be active every single day

In fact, national guidelines state that children need at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day. Whether that’s playing a sport or messing around with friends, it’s got to be activity that gets them ‘huffing and puffing’. 

However, don’t think that the minimum of 60 minutes is what to aim for. The more exercise your kids get, the better.

Again, guidelines advise that more activity – up to several hours per day – is associated with additional health benefits. So get them running around at every opportunity.

Screen-time, or sedentary behaviour, is also a growing problem. 

The Department of Health recommends a maximum of two hours of screen time a day for kids

By all means, if they’re getting their homework done on the computer, then great. But just bear in mind that if screen-based activity starts to replace physical activity – and this is a confirmed trend – then it’s probably time to turn off the TV and show some tough love. 

10 actionable tactics to get kids moving and eating healthy

​1.    Choose wholefoods 

Let’s face it, the more ingredients on the packaging, the less the nutritional value. So always try to steer clear of the quick and easy processed options.

Again, this useful healthy eating guide is super helpful for getting your family’s diet right.

2.    Limit screen time

It’s an obvious one, but potentially the hardest to enforce. 

We’ve established that some screen time is necessary but it’s the non-necessary screen time which needs a non-negotiable stance. If two hours is the recommended limit and an hour of that is taken up with study, that’s an hour left for TV or computer games. Unless it’s an interactive game like ‘Just Dance’ which is ideal for keeping kids active and entertained on rainy days. 

If you set some rules, there may be some initial moaning, but they’ll quickly find other fun, more active ways to fill their leisure time. Hopefully. 

3.    Educate yourself

Knowing the nutritional basics and sticking to them is one of the most effective ways to teach your kids to make healthy food choices. 

Impart this knowledge to your kids, taking the time to explain in simple terms what foods are good and bad, and before long they’ll understand enough to self-police (well… sometimes at least).

4.    Prepare meals and snacks

Put a bit of time aside each evening to think about what your kids are going to eat the next day. If it means whipping up a sandwich or cutting up some carrot sticks, that’s 10 minutes well spent. 

You can even get the kids to help. Making healthy food choices is certainly something they’ll pick up from you over time. Though it will take time.  

Plus it’s always best to send them to school with a lunchbox, not spending money for the canteen. There’s no guarantee it’ll go on the right stuff…

5.    Check your language 

Slight changes in language can have pretty massive psychological effects. 

One good example is how in French culture, instead of asking “do you want more?” when you’re coming to the end of a meal, the French ask “are you full?” The latter makes us consciously think about how we feel, whereas asking if someone wants “more” of anything (especially a child) is likely to get a positive response. 

Start asking “are you full?” after meals and kids will get into the habit of assessing whether they are actually hungry, or just being greedy.

6.    Hide the cookies 

Yes, you need to be the Tim Tam gatekeeper. It is a necessary evil. 

Control consumption and they’ll eventually learn what a healthy amount of sugar is… eventually

Or, just don’t buy them. We all (including us adults) get sweet cravings, but if the bad stuff isn’t around, we’ll find a healthier alternative.

7.    Help find an activity they like

It could be anything from dance, to soccer, to tennis, or even trampolining. Introduce them to a wide range of activities (the earlier, the better) and you’ll soon learn what they have an interest in. But it doesn’t stop there. 

If it’s clear your child enjoys taking part in a particular sport or activity, you’ve got to show your support and give them every opportunity to keep it up. Whether that’s through organised programs or simply grabbing a ball and playing with them yourself.

Learning to love and value exercise – in whatever form – is such a great life lesson for kids to take into adulthood. 

8.    Balance it out

As mentioned earlier, you can’t send them on a marathon after that one-off McDonald’s. It’s more just about monitoring, which can be unbelievably hard when you’ve got kids party invites coming out of your ears. 

The best thing you can do is, if you know there’s going to be an influx of naughty ‘treats’, get your diet around these events in tip top shape and make sure the excess is burnt off post-party. 

Try scheduling in a bike ride, a family hike or a swim sesh at your local pool a day or two after the event. Anything to get their little bodies moving.

9.    Get silly

If organising activities with your kids in between school, homework, appointments and other family commitments, is easier said than done, then instigating an impromptu dance off is a super easy way to get their hearts pumping. 

Take a leaf out of this mum’s book as she rocks out with her cute daughter in their living room. 

Oh, and the sillier you get, the more fun they’ll have. 

10.    Set the example

This is probably the toughest out of the lot but also the one that has most impact.

Setting a good example means you’ve got to watch your own eating habits and make the effort to show that being active is crucial for a healthy lifestyle. 

If you lead the way, they’ll follow.
 
So to sum up…

Turn off the TV, initiate a fun activity, get silly and have some healthy snacks prepared for refuelling afterwards.

Amy Cox

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AMY COX
Amy is UQ Sport’s resident blogger. She’s a peanut-butter loving Brit, who exercises to eat whatever she wants. You’ll find Amy either in the gym, playing badminton or doing the wrong moves in group fitness classes.