Childhood obesity is a priority issue yet the level of public support available to Australian families is “inadequate”, according to new research presented at the World Congress on Public Health in Melbourne.
Currently there is no publicly available national childhood obesity management program in Australia for children who need to lose weight, says Dr Helen Vidgen from the Faculty of Health at Queensland University of Technology.
Given there are evidence-based programs that have been proven to work, this is a situation that urgently needs to change given a quarter of all Australian children are now considered overweight or obese, she says.
“We hear so much about childhood obesity in the media yet if a family want to get some support from a health professional there really isn’t a clear place for them to go,” Dr Vidgen told AAP.
“If you have a child with a health issue – such as poor hearing or vision – there is a clear, integrated pathway through the health system and access to national services to manage this issue.
“But when it comes to managing childhood obesity there are no universally accessible services and there is no integrated pathway through the health services.”
Research led by Dr Vidgen found two specialised healthy lifestyle programs Go4Fun and PEACH, trialled in NSW and Queensland respectively, to be highly effective in reducing a child’s body mass index (BMI), activity levels and eating habits.
But they were hard for families to access because of the red tape involved in running the programs and a lack of direction and communication between different health professionals.
There is a real disconnect and a properly resourced national approach is needed, Dr Vidgen says.
“The strongest thing that we learnt is that there needs to be a clear directive on whose responsibility it is to deliver services to families and then the line of funding identified to match that responsibility,” she said.
“Left unchecked, an estimated one in three Australian children will be overweight or obese by 2025, so the need to find the right solutions for this complex problem is more pressing than ever.”
The Go4Fun program resulted in an average:
* 1.5 cm reduction in waist circumference
* 0.6kg/m2 reduction in body mass index
* Increase of 3.6 hours per week spent being physically active
* Decrease of 2.8 hours per week in sedentary activity
* Increase in fruit and vegetable consumption (by almost one additional serve per day)
* Decrease in sweet drink consumption (by almost 1.5 serves per week)
* Increase in fitness and self-esteem