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7 ways to prevent and manage childhood obesity

17 September 2018
World Obesity Day 2018
World Obesity Day was established to promote practical solutions to end the global obesity crisis. Leading up to 11 October, a review of current evidence lays out a path for the prevention and management of childhood obesity.

An examination of existing literature to determine contemporary approaches to the prevention and management of paediatric obesity in Australia was conducted by researchers Professor Louise Baur and Dr Seema Mihrshahi from the Centre of Research Excellence in the Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood (CRE-EPOCH) based at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Dr Megan Gow from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and published in the Medical Journal of Australia today.

“Child and adolescent obesity is a complex problem involving many levels of influence,” lead author Dr Mihrshahi, from the University of Sydney School of Public Health, said.

“However, this review demonstrates it is possible to curb obesity through smart governance across many sectors, community initiatives, the support of individual efforts and clinical leadership.

“Here are seven ways we can effectively tackle childhood obesity, based on the evidence.”

1. Integrated action to prevent obesity

“In terms of obesity prevention, there needs to be integrated action from preconception, through pregnancy and early childhood, and across the age and developmental spectrum,” the authors say.

2. Fiscal policies to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages

“A study which modelled the impact of a 20 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Australia estimated that it would likely reduce purchasing and consumption, leading to health gains and health care expenditure savings across all quintiles of socio-economic deprivation,” they write.

3. Regulate unhealthy food marketing to children

“Limiting the exposure of children to the marketing of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods has been identified as a highly cost-effective strategy, potentially saving an estimated $38 for every $1 invested,” say the authors.

“Australian studies have shown that public attitudes are changing in this area, with growing support for government intervention to regulate food advertising and implement other regulatory policies, especially those targeting children.”

4. Public transport policies that promote active transport

“There is moderate evidence for community interventions that include a physical activity or an active transport component for reducing obesity-conducive behaviour, suggesting the important role of communities in facilitating active lifestyles,” they say.

5. Urban planning approaches to support active communities

“Longitudinal and cross-sectional studies have shown that higher neighbourhood park and playground access, availability and active commuting are associated with lower BMI,” say the authors.

6. Treat children and adolescents with established obesity more effectively

“While the basic principles of management are well recognised — including family-based, behavioural change, as well as adjunctive therapies for older children with more severe obesity — major challenges in delivering services, at scale, in often resource-constrained environments remain,” the authors say.

7. Coordinate health care pathways in each health region

“We need to link primary care through to tertiary care services, including bariatric surgery for older adolescents with more severe obesity,” the researchers conclude.