According to the data presented by the Government of Western Australia (2014), childhood obesity is one of the most challenging public health issues of the 21st century. Various statistics show that the numbers of obese primary school children are considerable and keep growing. Being associated with poor physical and psychological state, childhood obesity has caused growing concerns among world countries, international organizations and local societies. The current writing will focus on the analysis of the most vulnerable aspects of Australian initiatives struggling childhood obesity in order to offer a new improved program for obese children.
Definition and Prevalence
Obesity is a quite complex disease. It is mostly defined on the basis of a person’s BMI and is crucial for a number of characteristics, including physical functioning, bodily pains, mental state, self-esteem etc. (Wake et al., 2002). In addition, chronic morbidity and decreased life expectancy are the accompanying factors that lead to more serious investigations of preventive strategies (Wake & McCallum, 2004). Complexity of the obesity is also predetermined by some other features. Being strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, eating disorders or even cancer, it can be difficult to distinguish between reason and consequence of a patient’s medical state, as all organism systems are closely interconnected (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2013). Hence, this urgent problem obviously demands governmental strict means. According to the report of Leung & Funder (2014), such policies already have their cost to Australian government more than AUD $58.2 billion till 2008. Expenditures grow and the funds on children’s obesity prevention are spent. For a growing organism, obesity can become even a greater problem than for adults. Center for Community Child Health (2007) defines that the number of obese children aged 2-18 is approximately 200.000, which is at least a quarter of all school children.
The number of Australian children suffering from obesity has been growing; 27 per cent of Australian children aged 7-15 suffered obesity in 2003-4 (Waters et al, 2010). The statistics show that the number of overweight and obese children has increased from 21% to 25.7% during the last two decades (Government of Western Australia, 2014). Even though obesity and overweigh are more common to grow with age, the above mentioned statistics characterize children aged between 5-17 years. In 2012, the population of Australia counted 17.7% of overweight and 7.6% of obese children (Government of Western Australia, 2014). According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (2010), such changes were mostly related to boys, while the obesity rate for girls remained stable.
One of the main reasons for growing obesity statistics is claimed to be the dieting, as nowadays there are not so many families eating healthy food regularly. Children adore junk foods, which are the opposite of healthy and may have a more dramatic effect on public health situation. However, some researchers have proven that nutrition effect on the level of childhood obesity is connected to breastfeeding, or its lack, as modern mothers do not consider it important; despite strengthening the immune system, it may prevent obesity in future (Obesity Working Group, 2009). For this purpose, Australian government supports and encourages women to breastfeed in order to protect children from being obese as growing older, as well as from heart-related health problems (Department of Health, 2008).
Another cause of obesity is connected with time spent at school. School canteens may join the healthy eating promotion by reducing the amount of harmful, “unhealthy food and beverages” (Obesity Working Group, 2009). Hence, Australian government calls schools for supporting the policy on healthy lifestyle: conducting seminars, classes not only for students, but also for their families to introduce the problem and provide possible solutions, as well as including more physical activities on the schedule (Obesity Working Group, 2009). The so-called “dietary education programs” aim at teaching parents how “to reduce fat intake” in the young age have brought the results: the fat consumption level has reduced (Boxall, 2009).
Despite the nutrition issue, a lot depends on the society’s readiness to deal with obesity, as far as children can be easily influenced by adults. Hence, it depends on how urgent the matter is considered. Despite school education on healthy lifestyle, it is necessary to conduct the policy on the national level, as it has been proven that combining proper food with physical exercising will help to avoid obesity in adulthood (Boxall, 2009). The suggested policy might deal with “energy equation”: a balance between “energy in and energy out”, when the quantity of food and drinks is equated to the quantity of energy spent in daily life (Crowle & Turner, 2010). Another possible action taken against obesity is to introduce taxes on junk food and drinks in order to reduce their consumption (Crowle & Turner, 2010). However, it does not mean it will be excluded from people’s daily diet. The level of obesity depends on the quantity of unhealthy food. A child might have a few cookies or sweets from time to time and have no problems with weight due to active lifestyle and proper diet.
Informing about the very trend in the media, leaflets, seminars and meetings is another step to show the public how necessary it is to check their menu and revise it from time to time. This negative issue may cause the country a lot of expenses in future. For instance, according to various researchers, obese children are facing numerous health threats, which may result in additional failures for the national economy: physical and psychological problems, inefficiency at a workplace, unequal societal terms for the citizens, who are not obese and have similar duties (Crowle & Turner, 2010).
Community Health Manual Guideline for School Aged Children
“Community Health Manual Guideline for School aged children” is one of the recent initiatives taken by Australian government to fight childhood obesity. This initiative targets the problem of childhood obesity at three different programs: for prevention, early intervention and targeted intervention for overweight children. The synergy between these programs must be constantly maintained to guarantee the best results. The areas of usage for this initiative are family, school and society in general.
This program gives the following basic principles to guide teachers at school. Teachers should encourage parents to seek for help for their overweight children, as early as possible. Words “fat” and “morbidly obese” must not be used by children or teachers in reference to obese children. The term “at risk of overweight” should be used to describe problem as gently as possible (Government of Western Australia, 2014). Sometimes parents may understand criticism of their child’s weight not as a health issue but as a parenting criticism. In such cases, it is appropriate for teachers not to mention child’s weight, but, instead, to refer to the child’s inability to sit comfortably on chair or participate in sport activities. Parents should be also encouraged to focus on healthy behaviors. It is obvious that children who see good example from their parents will take more efforts than those who do not(Government of Western Australia, 2014). Another important fact underlined in the “Community Health Manual Guideline for School aged children” is the importance of community health staff. Both school teachers and community health services have very effective means to promote healthy life style and to early detect any health problems (Government of Western Australia, 2014).
The main program limitation is that by fighting obesity, the government will promote more dangerous diseases among those who are underweight, such as anorexia.
The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
New initiative approved by The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne gives valuable recommendations for parents on how to prevent their children from being obese. This recommendation addresses all parents because they alone can be the most effective force to improve health of their children.
The first recommendation for parents of obese children is to seek for professional’s advice. All children are different and it is always better to look at each case individually. In order to prevent childhood obesity, it is necessary to control one’s eating habits. It is important to know that a healthy diet is not just what a child eats, it is also how much he/she eats. A child should have a healthy meal, as well as healthy snacks regularly. In order to promote healthy eating among their children, parents should buy and cook healthy food and encourage their children to take part in the proses of buying and cooking, as well as giving their children possibility to choose the amount of food they will eat. Trying is another important aspect; children will not always be ready to change their eating habits. Emotional health of a child should also be taken into consideration. Parents should teach their child to distinguish when he or she eats because of hunger and when because of boredom or sadness. Another good way to fight obesity is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Parents should limit the usage of a car for a while and take a walk to a mall, school or a friend (Morgan, 2010). Patience is the most important thing in bringing up children, so the parents should start with small moves constantly moving forward, without losing their own hope and always motivating their child.
The initiative of The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne can have some drawbacks, such as being small-scale when compared to others.
In Australia, just like in most developed countries, families usually have only one child and because of this, children are often over cared and sometimes even spoiled by parental love (Zubrick, 2010). In many cases, parents are blind to different problems their children might have. Therefore, there are good reasons to stress on the importance for implementing new program to struggle childhood obesity in Australia.
The new program will include recommendations for teachers in schools, so that they could use this program on three different levels, such as: prevention, early and targeted intervention (CHM, 2014). Only by making efforts to achieve synergy between these levels, teachers’ efforts will be the most effective when dealing with the problem of overweight children. Of course, teachers do not have the same influence on children as parents have. However, they should find the means of impact on both children and parents.
Even though teachers are given the biggest role in this new program, it is not the only one. Parents should make efforts to promote healthy eating habits among their own children; there are several ways to do it. For example, parents should involve children in the process of cooking; they should allow children to decide how much of certain food they will eat; psychological health of children is equally important; and, finally, it is always a good idea to walk instead of driving a car (Morgan, 2010).
The new program will influence both parents and teachers, so this will give more experience for future researches. Of course, it is necessary to find the golden balance between problems of overweight and underweight (Olds, 2010). There is a possibility that wide discussion of the problem of overweight can cause return of the underweight problem, which is not very likely.
Childhood obesity is a complex universal problem that demands serious attention on the part of many agents. Among such, governmental support, teachers’ and parent’s efforts are influential to find a proper balance of exterior influences on a child. The new program offered in the above mentioned research emphasizes on the importance of this balance and vulnerability of school children’s psychology. In addition, it considers teachers as professionals who have to become mediators between the parents and children to provide proper instructions about the ways to deal with obesity problems.