Parliamentary inquiry looks at obesity in Australian children

A parliamentary committee has this week focused on the growing epidemic of obesity.

The inquiry has sought to examine the prevalence of obesity among Australian children and changes in the rates over time, along with the causes, the outcomes, and the effectiveness of government programs to improve diets and promote physical activity.

Menzies Institute for Medical Research director Alison Venn has informed the committee that the University of Tasmania had conducted extensive research on the predictors and consequences of obesity.

She led the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study; the only of its kind in Australia and one of few with such a large sample size in the world.

Professor Venn said obese boys had a five-fold increase risk of obesity 20 years later and obese girls a nine-fold increased risk.

She said a high body mass index led to poorer vascular health, cardiac structure and lung function in adulthood.

Professor Venn said overweight children were found to have an increased risk of mood disorder as adults and obese girls aged seven to 11 an increased risk of infertility in adulthood.

Breastfeeding Coalition Tasmania spokeswoman Ros Escott said breastfeeding was one of the first steps in obesity prevention but breastfeeding rates fell far below national and international recommendations.

“It is well established that breastfeeding is associated with lower rates of obesity,” she said.

“There is growing concern internationally that the promotion of infant formula, toddler and junior milks and some commercial foods for infants and young children undermines optimal infant and young child feeding and may contribute to the development of overweight and obesity.”

In a submission to the inquiry, the state’s Health Department has highlighted that less than a third of Australian children meet recommendations for physical activity and only one in ten meet recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake.

“All available evidence suggests simple, isolated, one-off, short-term interventions for obesity prevention have limited success,” it said. 

“Effective prevention requires multi-strategic approaches that support people to make better health decisions and avoid chronic disease by changing the environment in which people live, work, play and learn.”