Obesity in children is an abnormal medical condition in which excess fats accumulate in children’s bodies causing them to have more weight than expected. This health condition has been experienced since time immemorial (Beseler, 2008). Its occurrence can be traced back to prehistoric ancestors. Artefacts dating back to the Stone Age period depict cases of obesity in prehistoric families. The tendencies to store excess energy in the form of fats results from thousands of years of evolution in an environment characterized by limited and uncertain food supplies (Beseler, 2008). Based on this concept, those who could store more energy in times of plenty had higher chances of surviving through periods of famine, and thus progressed through their childhood to adulthood with ease. However, in the past, the issues associated with childhood obesity were very few and rare. Currently, the percentage has increased immensely with the availability of inexpensive, high-energy food, and reduced physical activities among children (Beseler, 2008). Owing to this, obesity in society has become a major health concern. This paper seeks to identify the prevalence of childhood obesity in Australia and recommends appropriate measures to be adopted by the stakeholders.
Attitudes about obesity have evolved over time. In the 19th century, obese children were associated with affluent families. On the contrary, slender children were associated with poor families. Currently, cases of obesity are common across all social classes in society. According to the health reports, obesity is among the leading cause of early death in the 21st century (Beseler, 2008). In the year 2007, the World Health Organization indicated that there was a global increase in cases of child obesity remarkably in the developed nations. Currently, Australia is among the leading nations with increased cases of childhood obesity among the developed nations. According to the recent studies, carried out by the World Health Organization, one in every four children in Australia is overweight. Particularly, over the last decade, the percentage of children with obesity has increased by 5% (Pangrazi, 2010).
Why childhood obesity is a significant health issue in Australia
The ever-increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in Australia has become a major health issue. If the current trends continue two-thirds of Australian children will be overweight by the year 2020 (Pangrazi, 2010). These health statistics indicate that obesity-related issues are threatening the future of the Australian generation. The risks paint a disturbing picture to most Australian parents. What is more disturbing is the uneven distribution of the prevalence of obesity in Australian society. According to the recent health survey, the disadvantaged groups and the indigenous people in Australian society are the most affected. According to the report, indigenous people were 2 times more vulnerable to obesity than non-indigenous individuals were (Pangrazi, 2010).
In Australia, physical health issues associated with obesity are widely documented. However, there are a few researches focusing on the psychological and social effects of childhood obesity. In spite of this, the psychological and social effects of obesity in children should not be underrated. As such, several immediate psychological effects associated with this medical condition in children include social isolation, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. Affected children have reported that their peers describe and tease them as gluttonous, ugly, stupid, and lazy (Pangrazi, 2010). According to psychologists, negative attributes have adverse negative impacts on children’s lives than the disease itself. Overweight children in their adolescence stages are the most vulnerable to distress-related disorders. Obesity does not only affect children’s social lives but also affects their health conditions. Recent surveys indicate that obese children have higher chances of getting chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, and asthma (Pangrazi, 2010). In addition, the survey illustrated that one in every three individuals suffering from diabetes is overweight. Similarly, the reports found out that one in every five people suffering from cardiovascular disease suffered from obesity. Equally, related reports released by the health survey in the year 2003 indicated that excessive accumulation of fats in some individuals was responsible for 8% of all the body injuries reported in the year (Pangrazi, 2010). More data indicated that overweight individuals have less life expectancy as compared with non-overweight individuals. These data emphasized that overweight individuals died three years earlier than non-overweight individuals did.
In Australia, the social and economic costs associated with obesity are concurrently increasing with the ever-increasing cases of children with obesity. According to the Australian government health reports, in the year 2008, more than $15 billion were used in the treatment and control of obesity-related disorders in children (Pangrazi, 2010). Unlike non-obese children, obese children are more likely to absent themselves from schools due to their illness, which occurs more often. If obesity in children is not tackled appropriately, there are higher chances that obese children will progress into overweight adults in the future.
Key determinants of childhood obesity in Australia
To understand the prevalence of obesity one needs to analyze Australian children eating behaviours, physical activities and other determinants of obesity across the country. From a socio-ecological approach, we should focus on the children’s behaviours, rather than on the disease to comprehend the determinants of the disease. In addition, children suffering from the disease should undergo psychosocial and social-ecological examinations.
In Australia, the environment is a major factor that has influenced the increase in cases of obesity among children. Health experts assert that the environment’s contribution to the increasing obesity cases should be attributed to the children’s behaviours. Through this approach, parents are solely responsible for the type of environment they provide for their kids. In Australia, researchers have confirmed that parents have greatly influenced their children’s physical activity (Lenchik, 2009). Parents have direct influences on their children’s physical activities. Through this, parents should provide environments those natural physical activities for their children. Physically active parents can greatly influence the physical activities of their children. On the other hand, children whose parents are less physical influence the same behaviour in their children (Lenchik, 2009). This implies that parents who emphasize regular physical activities have reduced the chances of their children being obese. By engaging children in physical activities, parents will help them burn excess fats in their bodies, hence reducing their likelihood of being obese.
Similarly, parental influences are major determinants of food attitudes and practices in young children. Parenting styles influence the development of food preferences and the ability of children to regulate what they eat. This implies that parents should be concerned about what their children eat, and ensure that they eat food with low- energy food to prevent obesity in young children.
Addressing child obesity in Australia
Government, schools and parents must work together to implement appropriate measures that address the prevalence of obesity in Australian children. Researchers assert that to achieve this all stakeholders must come up with ways that will ensure children increase their physical activities and reduce their intake of high-energy foods. To increase physical activity, the children must be prepared psychologically to enjoy the proposed activities (Lenchik, 2009). This is essential, as it will foster fun and enjoyment among the participants. Throughout these physical activities, youngsters should experience success for them to develop habitual physical activities. This will ensure that the kids participate in physical activities at every possible opportunity (Lenchik, 2009). These initiatives are achieved by encouraging activities such as walk –to- school programs, emphasizing physical education, and encouraging children to participate in sports. Walk-to-school programs should take into consideration the children’s safety and comfort (Lenchik, 2009). To realize these goals, schools, parents and the community should network to ensure that social structures are utilized positively to the benefit of the children. Parental concerns about their children’s safety can be solved by engaging trained and accredited walking leaders and volunteers to supervise the walk –to- school programs.
Similarly, families also have a role to play in ensuring that children’s obesity is reduced. Families should ensure that they feed their children with appropriate food, and select appropriate physical activities (Bell, 2005). Parents must realize that they have a stronger influence on their children than their peers and their teachers. As a result, it is important that measures and strategies aimed at preventing childhood obesity involve parents and the wider family units. Parents should put more effort to regulate the food intake of their children. Through this, they should ensure that they allow their children to choose from the food they offer, and ensure that they control the quantity of their children’s food intake (Bell, 2005). Through these control measures, parents should be watchful to ensure that their children eat a variety of foods with all the needed nutrients to ensure that they have balanced diets (Bell, 2005). Similarly, parents should ensure that their children eat home-prepared meals as much as possible with plenty of fruits and vegetables. They should be cautious to ensure that they limit feeding their children with high-fat foods, high sugar foods, and sugar sweeten soft drinks. Moreover, it is their responsibility to ensure that their children avoid eating at times other than meal times, and ensure that they eat together as far as possible. Above all, they should ensure that they serve them with appropriate portions of food.
Similarly, Australian parents should enhance physical activity among their children to prevent them from getting overweight disorders. To achieve this, parents are to limit the number of hours their children spend watching television. Consequently, their children will be left with no other choice but to choose substitute tasks. Parents should realize that television viewing reduces physical activities and increases the rate of food consumption. For instance, it is very common for most children to eat snacks while watching television. Furthermore, children are vulnerable to soft drinks and energy-dense food advisements from televisions.
Who is responsible for childhood obesity in Australia?
In my opinion, parents are to blame for the increase in childhood obesity in Australia. As earlier noted, parents influence the behaviours of their children. In Australia, more than half of the children population watch television for more than 20 hours a week. Watching television and studying in schools implies that children are left with little or no time to spend on physical exercise in a week (Lenchik, 2009). In Australia, most children watch television under the watchful eye of their parents and guardians. In this regard, parents are largely to blame for the consequences and increase the prevalence of obesity in their children population. Similarly, parents are to blame for failing to provide their children with appropriate eating guidelines. Parents should act as an example to their children. In this essence, they should also ensure that they avoid eating foods that enhance obesity. By acting as role models, parents must educate their children about the causes and effects of obesity.
On the other hand, the Australian media is to blame for the increase in children’s obesity. Researchers have identified that in Australian children’s shows on TVs there are a number of high fat and high sugar food advertisements than on adults’ shows (Lenchik, 2009). This implies that the food industries responsible for these advertisements together with the media are after increasing their profits at the expense of children’s health conditions. Although in the year 2008, the media regulatory body had asserted that they were going to introduce the appropriate restrictions on food and beverage advertisements targeting children, it is worrying to note that little has been done on the issue (Lenchik, 2009). To prevent the prevalence of obesity in Australia, we must all acknowledge its adverse effects in our society and recognize that everyone has a responsibility to prevent obesity by eating appropriate foods and exercising regularly.
Bell, S. (2005). School canteens: using ripples to create a wave of healthy eating. Medical Journal of Australia, 183(1), 36-40.
Beseler, L. (2008). Obesity, children. Boca Raton: Bar Charts, Inc.
Lenchik, J. K. (2009). A place to live, learn, & play increasing childhood physical activity through the built environment. Winston-Salem, NC: Wake Forest University.
Pangrazi, B. (2010). Department of Health and Ageing. Preventative Health Journal, 123(2), 10-21.