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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 3 Hansard (28 March) . . Page.. 696..


MR SPEAKER (continuing):

The importance of implementing programs to encourage healthy and active children in the ACT.

MS MacDONALD (Brindabella) (3.59): It is estimated that more than 12 per cent of the children in our community are overweight or obese, and this figure continues to grow. Australia is now one of the leading nations in rates of childhood obesity-a problem that poses a significant threat to the future health of our nation.

In the past 20 years, the number of obese Australians has doubled, with 60 per cent of the population now considered either overweight or obese. In fact, the number of young people presenting as overweight or obese is increasing at an alarming rate and has more than doubled in the past 15 years, making it even more important to educate our youth about healthy eating habits than ever before. Current figures show that obese children have a 25 to 50 per cent chance of progressing to adult obesity. This risk can increase to almost 80 per cent for older obese adolescents.

Obesity is now in epidemic proportions and is putting the lives of more than one million Australian children in danger. The livers of obese children start to degenerate sooner, their arteries clog up, they often have difficulty breathing when awake and sometimes stop breathing while asleep. If left untreated, obesity places immense stress on the heart, which could lead to a stroke or heart attack, can severely impair mobility and may lead to blindness, kidney failure and, eventually, death.

Obese adults who were obese adolescents have higher levels of weight-related ill health and a higher risk of early death than those who have become obese in adulthood, and childhood obesity can lead to orthopaedic conditions due to postural imbalance and excessive weight bearing upon joints. Being overweight or obese can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and arthritis, all of which can have major health implications and can reduce life enjoyment and life itself.

What causes obesity and what can be done to reduce levels of the condition? Obesity can be considered a consequence of a number of factors. It can be genetic but, perhaps more persuasively, can be seen as environmental, drawing from dietary behaviours, exercising habits and family and social structures.

Childhood obesity is a major problem because it not only affects a child's health and development but can also lead to adult obesity because these habits and behaviours go unchanged. As a community it is imperative for the future health of our nation that we try to bring about a change.

When drawing links between obesity and nutrition, the traditional perception has been that overweight children eat too much food. While this may be partly true, new focus has now been directed not so much on how much a child is eating but on what is or is not being eaten. Studies from the University of Sydney's New South Wales Centre for Public Health Nutrition have identified that children who skip breakfast are at more risk of developing weight problems than those who do not. This finding was a result of an extensive study conducted by Dr Tim Gill, who surveyed the eating habits of almost


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