By Alex Scott
In Australia, around 25% of children are overweight or obese, and that number is creeping higher according to a Perth paediatrician.
Dr Lana Bell works at Joondalup Health Campus and is a consultant in the Endocrinology Department at Princess Margaret Hospital specialising in childhood obesity.
“About 18-20 % are overweight and 5-7 percent are obese,” Bell said.
“That’s still slowly but steadily increasing and the rates have been around that level for around 15 years but are still increasing.”
According to Bell there are varying causes of obesity in children.
“There are rare hormonal causes and rare genetic causes, but they are very rare and very few and far between,” Bell said.
“Unfortunately we think it still comes down to eating too much and exercising too little.
“It’s much easier these days to get in calorie dense food that might have low nutritional value.”
According to Bell the impacts of childhood obesity do strike at a young age. They include early heart disease, early hypertension, type two diabetes as well as hormonal problems in teenagers.
“As many as 15 years ago there was really no appreciable type two diabetes burden at Princess Margaret Hospital…and unfortunately now we have a thriving type two diabetes clinic.”
Bell said that the keys to combatting childhood obesity are education and population health measures such as labelling, marketing, and pricing.
She believes education will remain the key, as new research has emerged that weight gain during pregnancy can affect the unborn child.
“We now know that limiting excessive weight gain during pregnancy affects the foetus as well,” said Bell.
“So before the child is even born, if we can help the mother to control weight then the child will be less likely to be overweight or obese.
“If you get in early with a six-year-old that’s important, but if you can get in with a two or four-year-old, that’s even more important.”