AUSTRALIAN children should be weighed and measured regularly at school to tackle childhood obesity, experts say.
Researchers from Deakin University’s World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention said efforts to address the public health epidemic in Australia were being hamstrung by inadequate and outdated data.
They said the federal government needed to introduce a population-wide program to monitor childhood obesity, which was ”a fundamental component of prevention”.
Writing in the journal Pediatric Obesity, the researchers said the absence of such a program meant Australia was falling behind other countries including Britain in measuring childhood obesity and evaluating strategies aiming at reducing it.
”Obesity is one of the major public health concerns facing Australia yet currently there are no routinely collected data to effectively track the problem,” they said.
”Monitoring obesity prevalence in children provides important population health data that can be used to track trends over time, identify areas at greatest risk, determine the effectiveness of interventions and policies, raise awareness and stimulate action.”
The researchers, led by Dr Katie Lacy, said opt-out consent – where parents were informed of the program and consent assumed unless they sought to withdraw it – was the best model to ensure high participation rates and obtain representative data. They said fears that taking height and weight measurements in schools could negatively affect children’s body image appeared to be unfounded, based on a statewide program in Arkansas in the US.
”In the Arkansas program, it has been shown that there were no significant increases in teasing, weight concerns, embarrassment or unhealthy dieting among adolescents after three years of measurements,” the researchers said. They said it appeared that problems could be avoided by taking measurements privately and confidential results.