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Let's Give Our Children A Leaner Future

Obesity is a global crisis that demands global attention.

11/10/2016 5:54 AM AEDT | Updated 11/10/2016 5:54 AM AEDT
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Being overweight in childhood is a risk factor for health conditions in later life.

This year's World Obesity Day focuses on childhood obesity. The latest figures tell us that around the world there are more than 41 million children under the age of five who are overweight or obese.

Obesity is a global crisis that demands global attention. A worldwide, evidence-based community approach is urgently required. This must incorporate all levels of government, fitness and sport sectors, food manufacturers and advertising and marketing bodies, health care providers, and engage families, communities and individuals.

Among OECD countries, Australia has the fifth highest rate of obesity for people aged 15 years and over. Rates are higher in some of the most vulnerable social groups - disadvantaged socio-economic groups, people without post-school qualifications, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people born overseas.

Being overweight or obese in childhood is a known risk factor for many health conditions later in life, including diabetes, cancer and heart disease. As these diseases are largely preventable, prevention of childhood obesity needs to be a world-wide priority.

The Australian Government is tackling the challenge head-on through prevention initiatives to encourage and help people lead healthier lifestyles, be more active and eat healthier foods. Our Sporting Schools Initiative and the Girls Make Your Move national campaign, for example, are aimed at making a real, on-the-ground difference.

Sporting Schools encourages school-aged children to participate in sport-based physical activity before, during and after school. Research tells us that a quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese and many more lack the basic skills of running, catching, throwing and kicking needed in everyday life. Sporting Schools is part of the Government's Play.Sport.Australia. strategy to improve participation in organised sport for people of all ages.

Sporting Schools provides grants to primary schools to deliver sporting activities for children and to co-ordinate sporting organisations, coaches and teachers to deliver programs across 32 major sports. More than 6000 schools have already registered for Sporting Schools and more than 5000 have received funding.

The Government has announced that the current program will be extended from July 2017 to also target secondary schools for years 7 and 8 students to combat the significant drop out in physical activity at this age. The program extension targets girls aged 12-14 in schools where there is evidence of disadvantage or large groups of inactive students.

The Girls Make Your Move campaign is about inspiring, energising and empowering young women and girls aged 12-19 years to be more active. It reinforces the many benefits of an active life, whether through recreation, incidental physical activity or sport.

This campaign is aimed at reducing perceived barriers to physical activity, generating positive perceptions towards exercise and encouraging intentions to be more active. It encourages sport and physical activity to be a natural part of young women's lives -– it's about having fun and feeling good.

Being active has many physical, social, emotional and economic benefits for individuals and the community. It helps with managing stress, alleviating depression and anxiety, strengthening self-esteem, enhancing mood and boosting mental alertness. It also provides social benefits through increased social interaction and integration.

While increasing physical activity is a vital component to combating obesity, healthy eating is just as important. To assist and educate all Australians about the benefits of healthy eating, the Australian Government supports a front-of-pack labelling scheme, called the Health Star Rating System. This helps consumers to make healthier food choices through a quick, easy, standard way to compare similar packaged foods.

Underpinning this initiative and other Australian Government healthy eating initiatives are the Australian Dietary Guidelines. These provide advice on the types and amounts of food people should eat to maintain a healthy body weight.

Other Australian Government resources that provide further support to people to tackle obesity and encourage personal responsibility for their lifestyle choices include the Australian's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, and the Healthy Weight Guide.

You can access these documents, including the Australian Dietary Guidelines from the Australian Government Department of Health website www.health.gov.au

I encourage everyone to turn off the TV or computer, get up off the couch, get more active and eat well. Fighting obesity requires urgent action and greater awareness and leadership. Happier, healthier and longer lives would be a wonderful legacy to leave for our children, and this can only happen if we act now.

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