Facts about Childhood Obesity
Over the last 20 years, rates of obesity in children have risen greatly in many countries around the world, leading some researchers to speak of an 'international epidemic of childhood obesity'. In the ten-year period from 1985 to 1995 the level of combined overweight/obesity in Australian children more than doubled, whilst the level of obesity tripled in all age groups and for both sexes. In 1995, the proportion of overweight or obese children and adolescents aged 2-17 years was 21% for boys and 23% for girls. The proportion of obese girls aged 7-15 years increased dramatically from 1.2% in 1985 to 5.5% in 1995, and the proportion of obese boys increased from 1.4% to 4.7%. The rate of increase in Australia appears to be accelerating sharply when viewed in a historical perspective.
Obese children have a 25-50% chance of progression to adult obesity and it may be as high as 78% in older obese adolescents. Obese adults who were overweight as adolescents also have higher levels of weight-related ill health and a higher risk of early death than those obese adults who only became obese in adulthood. The prevention and management of obesity in children is a priority as there is a high risk of persistence into adulthood.
Weight gain and obesity develops when the energy intake from food and drink exceeds energy expenditure from physical activity and other metabolic processes. The trends in these behaviours are not encouraging. For example, mean intake of energy increased by over 10% among Australian children aged 10-15 years between 1985 and 1995. Physical activity levels in Australian adults have declined in the last decade, as in most other countries. There is a lack of survey trend data for children, however, a 1997 survey of NSW Year 8 and 10 students showed that girls were involved in lower levels of vigorous activity than boys and less than 70% of girls remained adequately active over winter. Particularly low rates of adequate activity were seen in girls from Middle Eastern and Asian cultural backgrounds, with further significant declines between Years 8 and 10.
Data from the NSW Child Health Survey 2001 found 40% of children, aged 5-12 years, reportedly watch two hours or more of television or videos a day on average and 15% are reported to play computer games for an hour or more a day on average. Such sedentary leisure time pursuits are now widely available to children and are replacing more traditional active pastimes.
This web page is managed and authorised by Centre for Health Advancement of the NSW Department of Health. Last updated: 17 March, 2009