Series of studies on rising obesity rates among kids

New figures show that nearly a quarter of secondary school students are overweight or obese, and lifestyle and socio-economic status are implicated. The research was funded by Cancer Councils around Australia and the National Heart Foundation. A series of articles published in the Medical Journal of Australia draws attention to the challenges presented by overweight and obesity to people in a variety of age groups especially children.

Research found of 12,000 students, one in four were either overweight (18 per cent) or obese (5 per cent). Male students from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to be overweight and slept less. Associate Prof Helen Skouteris, from Deakin University school of psychology said, “Toddlers and preschoolers, children and adolescents are physiologically and developmentally different from each other.”

Associate Professor Anthea Magarey, of Flinders University, said health professionals should promote the importance of healthy eating and activity and an awareness of healthy growth, especially in young children. “Obesity prevention management is complex and requires complex solutions, but physical activity is an important component for all ages and, like healthy eating, has much broader health outcomes than weight management alone,” Associate Professor Magarey said.

Researchers are calling for urgent research to clarify how much exercise preschoolers, children and teenagers need to stay healthy. The review of physical activity guidelines for under-fives in Australia and other countries has found Australian youngsters are getting as little as one-sixth of the three hours of moderate to vigorous daily physical activity recommended.

One previous study found Australian three- to five-year-olds spent just 36 minutes in moderate- to vigorous-intensity activities and a further 110-120 minutes were spent on less intense exertion, while a separate study also found vigorous activity accounted for just 34 minutes daily.

But the review published today in the Medical Journal of Australia has found Australia's three-hour recommendation to be markedly different to the 60 minutes that Ireland advises parents is required, while the US National Association for Sport and Physical Education calls for 60 minutes of structured physical activity and "several hours" of unstructured play.

A separate US organization, the Institute of Medicine, recommends toddlers and preschoolers be physically active for 15 minutes in each waking hour, while Singapore, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden recommend 60 minutes or more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for all children, regardless of their age.

Review co-author and pediatrician Louise Baur, deputy associate dean of pediatrics and child health at Sydney University, said that in the absence of clear guidelines about what was healthy for young children, some concepts such as “kiddie gyms” were starting to gain a foothold.

Another study found that increasing maternal body mass index was associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as hypertension in pregnancy, gestational diabetes, caesarian deliveries, stillbirth and neonatal death. It was also associated with larger babies being born and health problems for babies such as hypoglycaemia, jaundice, respiratory distress and the need for intensive care.

“Most associations remained significant after adjusting for maternal age, parity, insurance status, smoking status, ethnicity and year of the birth,” the authors wrote. While obesity in pregnancy had not reached epidemic levels, the hospital was dealing with eight or nine births by obese women each week.

“These findings suggest the preventative measures should include a particular focus on facilitating physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior, as well as promoting adequate sleep, particularly among young people from lower [socio-economic position] neighborhoods who appear most susceptible,” the authors wrote.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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