Small change could slash childhood obesity rates

little girl eating a burger - Western diet

Australia’s rates of childhood overweight and obesity could be turned around with changes equivalent to cutting one small chocolate bar and getting in 15 minutes of exercise, according to research from the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute.

The research has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

In collaboration with marathon legend Rob de Castella, the University’s researchers are working to fight the decline in physical fitness and increase in childhood overweight and obesity in Australia.

Professor of public health Tom Cochrane says one in four Australian children are overweight or obese, but the changes needed to more than halve that figure are surprisingly small.

“We asked what it would take to reverse the increase seen in the prevalence of overweight in Australian school children over recent decades,” Prof Cochrane says.

“We were surprised by the answer: just a small daily dietary restriction equivalent to just one treat-size (15 gram) bar of chocolate and about 15 minutes extra of moderate physical activity per day.”

“By our estimates, those relatively small changes could cut the current 25% prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity to 9% in around 15-18 months,” he says.

The findings are based on a sample of more than 31,000 Australian school children from the ACT, NSW, SA and Queensland collected since 2000 by de Castella’s health promotion charity, SmartStart for Kids.

de Castella says Australia, and many other societies globally, faces a significant challenge in tackling child obesity, with many causes linked to the current rates.

“Each day kids are exposed to a series of factors which affect their weight, such as the availability and exposure to food and drink; loss of opportunities for play; and the uptake of television and other media which encourage sedentary lifestyles,” de Castella says.

“However, this research demonstrates that child obesity can be addressed and throws down a challenge for Australia to do better for its children and their future health and wellbeing.”

This is the first in a series of research studies by UC-HRI aimed at reversing both the decline in physical conditioning and increase in excess body weight seen in today’s children.

Prof Cochrane says the rate of childhood overweight and obesity is among the most pressing public health issues which UC-HRI is committed to addressing.

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