Education could be key factor in combating childhood obesity

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AUSSIE kids are getting fatter, with 30% of all Australian children now obese or overweight, a report on childhood health has found.

The second childhood wellbeing report card from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth was released on Friday.

It found 30% of young people aged between five and 24 years old were obese or overweight, and 57% of 15-24 year olds lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Some 3700 children and young people were surveyed on what they thought were the most important issues facing them, to create indicators of youth health, social and financial wellbeing.

The report found 23% of children entered primary school with "significant developmental vulnerability", such as vocabulary, reading, writing or social skills below the OECD average.

A panel of experts assembled for the report release said many of the issues such as low educational attainment, poverty and health outcomes were intertwined.

Early childhood expert June McLoughlin said across all areas of education, poverty and health, early education was the key to helping all children do better.

She said the best way to ensure children got the best start in life was early childhood education, by both the parents and institutions such as kindergarten.

Ms McLoughlin said if there was a single thing that could be done to improve the outcomes of all Australian children; it would be increased investment in early childhood education, and education of parents of what to do help their children.

Ms McLoughlin said education was the ultimate key to improving the health and social mobility of Australia's children, but parents' income also played a big role.

"It is incomprehensible we are in the bottom third for income inequality - which in the past the World Bank and the World Health Organisation have calculated as a key predictor of life expectancy; and that with preschool age children having access to early learning, we're 30th out of 34 OECD nations," she said.

"This is one of the key gaps revealed by the report card - we under-invest in the early years, which are proven to be critical in maximising the potential of our children and making them ready for school."

Other findings of the report included that indigenous children performed worse on every single indicator, and Australia continued to have a relatively high teenage pregnancy rate, despite falls in recent years.


Key findings:

  • Nearly one in three young people aged 15-24 years are overweight or obese and more than half (57%) lead sedentary lifestyles.
  • More than one in 10 young people suffer high levels of psychological distress.Indigenous rates of psychological distress and suicide are close to three times the national average.
  • One in six young people are not in education or in employment.
  • School achievement is relatively positive for 15 year olds but below average for primary school reading, maths and science.

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