Conflicting data on child obesity epidemic
DOUBTS have been cast on claims that Australia is experiencing an epidemic of childhood obesity.
Recently released data have found no increase in the number of overweight or obese children being treated in general practice over the last decade.
Findings from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report come after experts questioned media claims that the paediatric obesity epidemic was being exaggerated.
Writing in the MJA earlier this month, child health experts disputed the media claims, and said obesity had surged in recent decades, with almost a third of children aged 14 having features of the metabolic syndrome (MO, 10 July).
However, the AIHW report, which included BEACH data, found the percentage of children visiting general practice who were obese or overweight (defined according to age/sex-specific BMI cut-offs) had increased only slightly, from 27.9% in 1998 to 28.7% in 2008.
“It is very important to recognise that based on all recent Australian data, the levels of overweight/obesity in children are unacceptably high,” the authors said.
Professor Fiona Stanley of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, who co-authored one of the MJA letters, said most evidence indicated overweight and obesity was steadily rising.
Restricting definitions of obesity to arbitrary cut-off points might actually underestimate Australia’s obesity problem, she warned, saying the AIHW report used a selected population in comparison to general population surveys.
“The level of overweight and obesity in 1998 is already at 28%, so it’s already at the level that’s way up compared with what we were seeing in 1998 in the population surveys,” she said.
Associate Professor John Dixon, head of obesity research in the department of general practice at Monash University, said while the data suggested childhood obesity rates had been somewhat attenuated recently, this was only “vaguely reassuring”.
“The concern... is that in 30 years’ time we are going to be seeing a lot more of these children as overweight and obese adults.”
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