1493772445461 - Rates of childhood obesity dropping, but adults continue to tip the scale

Rates of childhood obesity dropping, but adults continue to tip the scale

Three in every five Aucklanders over 18 are obese, but pre-schoolers are bucking the trend, a new study shows. 

The latest research from the Healthy Auckland Together coalition showed the percentage of obese and overweight four-year-olds had dropped for the second consecutive year, from 22 per cent to 20 per cent.

However the monitoring report, released on Wednesday, indicated that children are still consuming too much sugar and are less physically active than recommended. 

Almost 80,000 Auckland children were weighed at before-school checks in 2015, with the gap in obesity rates closing between Maori, Pacific Island and European/other children, the report stated. 

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Healthy Auckland Together coalition spokesman Dr Michael Hale said attention needs to be given to what is happening in schools, early childhood centres and neighbourhoods to identify why researchers are seeing this change. 

“We need to find if this trend is a pre-school blip that reverses as children get older,” he said. 

Hale said “something positive” is happening for pre-schoolers, but not being able to identify the causes makes it difficult to push for change to achieve the same result for older children.

The report stated that fewer children between the ages of five and 14 are biking or walking to school than in previous years. 

“We also know that children are more attached to screens from seven years onwards, and more exposed to bad food around schools.”

Without more in-depth research, by way of a national nutrition survey of children, researchers are just speculating, Hale said. 

Measuring the quality of school practices around food, physical education and active play would tell us what goes on where children spend a large chunk of their day, he said. 

Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association chief executive Karen Shields said prevention is better than cure, but getting there can be very complex. 

There is a focus on preventing children from getting into serious health issues, like obesity, before they happen, she said, but kindergartens and early childhood centres walk a “fine line.”

So much of the decision-making for a child, particularly at preschool age, is done by the parents, she said. 

“You don’t want to be the food police.”

Instead, the Association focuses on sharing and role-modelling good practice for parents, Shields said. 

She said there is a greater awareness and knowledge on the importance of eating fresh fruit and vegetables – with many ECEs having their own gardens – and issues around sugary drinks and processed foods. 

Making sure children are outside and running around is important, given the change in lifestyle children today have, she said. 

“When I was a kid you’d spend all your time outside, now kids have tablets, they’re sitting down.”

But while there is good news for pre-schoolers, the rate of obese adults in Auckland rose to 61 per cent in 2016. 

The monitoring report stated that most adults are still not being active enough, or eating the minimum quantities of fruit and vegetables to keep them healthy. 

“It is so easy for adults to put on weight, and this is exacerbated by environments that encourage sitting at work, in the car and at leisure, and poor quality snacking and meals out as well,” Hale said. 

Less than half the adults surveyed, 43 per cent, were meeting the physical activity guidelines – a rate that hasn’t changed over the last year, the report stated.

Healthy Auckland Together includes Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS), the Ministry of Health, the three Auckland District Health Boards, Auckland Council, and Auckland Transport, as well as iwi, primary health organisations and other NGO and consumer groups.