New study highlights the cost of childhood obesity

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  Published on Wednesday, 29 March 2017

New study highlights the cost of childhood obesity

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Wednesday, 29 March 2017
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new study published by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health has estimated that childhood obesity now costs the taxpayer as much as $17 million per year.

The study found that each obese child cost an average of $367 more in healthcare costs than that of a child of a healthy weight.

Five per cent of two to four year olds are classified as obese, and 20 per cent of Australian children are obese or overweight by the time they start school. Obesity leads to insulin resistance, joint problems, asthma, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as social discrimination and lowered self-esteem. In later life this can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart problems, stroke and diabetes. With one in five of Australian kids overweight, there is a growing call for parents to make an urgent lifestyle change for their children to reverse this worrying trend.

The study stated: "Our estimate of the annual cost to the Australian healthcare system of obesity in children aged under five further highlights the importance of prevention in an age group that is often overlooked by researchers and public health professionals."

The first five years of a child's life are when the majority of habits and preferences are formed. Parents have a certain window of opportunity to set children up with good habits – something that will benefit children both in the short-term but also for the rest of their lives.

So what can parents do, to set up healthy attitudes to food and exercise?

  • Keep snacks healthy. Young children need to eat frequently, use snacks to add super-healthy choices to their diet. Keep fruit, vegetables, cheese, lean meats, and wholegrain products at hand, to avoid reaching for the chips and biscuits when kids are hungry and cranky.
  • Encourage water. Water should always be the main source of hydration. Juice should be limited to once a day, fizzy drinks are only for parties.
  • Limit sugar. Remove temptation of sugary snacks by not having biscuits and lollies in the cupboard.
  • Make mealtimes family time. Young kids love routine and love family time. Make an effort to eat a healthy dinner together around the table, where you can talk about your day and lead by example.
  • Don't nag them at mealtimes. If they don't eat their dinner, don't nag them to finish, but don't provide unhealthy alternatives.
  • Food is not a comfort. Don't use food as a comfort or a reward. Use hugs, stickers and plenty of praise.
  • Focus on health, not weight. Rather than focus on the weight of a child, focus on healthy living. This also goes for mum’s who are constantly worried about their weight too! Too much fretting about what’s on the scales can send negative body-image messages, so aim to focus on being healthy and strong rather than skinny.
  • Get moving. Kids are too sedentary in today's screen-led world. Limit screen time and instead encourage children to get up and play outdoors - to simply be kids and have fun. Children and teens should take part in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. They are much more likely to do it if you go along too, or if you organise for them to play with a friend.
  • Encourage sport. Be supportive of any sporting activity they wish to try – whether heading to the swimming pool, or joining a fun team sport. If they aren't interested or too young for formal sport, set up some fun activities around the house like tug-of-war, an obstacle course, skipping, playing a game of tips or capture the flag. These games are heaps of fun, but they also build strength, strategic thinking, agility and fitness.
  • Lead by example. Don't expect a child to do something if you aren't doing it yourself! We need to stay active, eat healthily and educate children on proper nutrition, so they are able to make good choices when adults aren't around to guide them. Get out and exercise together – ride bikes, go for a walk, dance around the kitchen, try hula hooping… whatever they enjoy and gets everyone moving.
  • Keep it fun! Kids won't do something they don't enjoy. Make healthy snacks interesting, make activities fun and together you can build a healthy family.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Tuesday, 02 February 2021

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