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Obesity specialist appointed to children's ho -

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ELEANOR HALL: Obesity experts are calling on hospitals around the country to follow the lead of a
Sydney children's hospital and appoint a specialist for childhood obesity.

The Westmead Children's Hospital has created a new position that deals exclusively with overweight
children.

But there are also calls for more money to be spent on prevention measures so the children don't
end up in hospital in the first place, as Jennifer Macey reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: According to experts in the field, one in four Australian children are either
overweight or obese and the numbers have been growing steadily for the past two decades.

Prof Louise Baur from Sydney University says many of these children end up in hospital with
obesity-related health problems.

LOUISE BAUR: So children who are affected by the problem of obesity seem to present either to their
general practitioner or to hospitals more frequently and this is probably because of the
complications that they have because of the problem.

So things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, abnormal liver function tests and so on. Many
of these can go for quite a while without being recognised.

JENNIFER MACEY: One hospital that's been struggling to cope with demand for its weight management
services is the Children's Hospital Westmead in western Sydney.

It's now appointed a specialist, Dr Shirley Alexander, to treat overweight and obese children.

She says her job will also involve educating hospital staff and families about nutrition and
exercise as well as conducting research into the issue.

SHIRLEY ALEXANDER: If you have problems with overweight and obesity as an adolescent, you are much
more likely to continue having problems with overweight and obesity as an adult.

As an adult being overweight or obese, you have many potential health issues such as type-2
diabetes, hypertension, and other cardiovascular problems, orthopaedic problems and liver disease.

It is much more difficult once you've got established obesity to actually reverse that so it would
be nice to try and prevent it in the first place but at least, you know, this is a start and the
children and adolescents that have problems with their weight, we need to address it earlier rather
than later.

JENNIFER MACEY: But Jane Martin, a senior policy advisor from the Obesity Policy Coalition says
better prevention measures are needed to stop children having to go to hospital in the first place.

JANE MARTIN: Well I think it's really unfortunate that it's got to the stage where this type of
intervention is required.

It is not going to help 25 per cent of children out there who are overweight or obese and the other
issue is that often parents don't recognise that their child is overweight or obese so you know,
there are hundreds of thousands of children who are going to fall through the cracks.

JENNIFER MACEY: Ms Martin is calling on governments to limit junk food advertising, advocate for
healthy food in schools, and to require stricter labelling of food products.

JANE MARTIN: So what that would mean is where salt, fat and sugar are outlined by traffic lights so
you would have red if something was high in that particular ingredient, orange if it was medium and
green if it was low.

So lets say you are looking at cereals, you would know if it was high in sugar because it would
have a red light next to the sugar on the front of the pack or if it was high in salt so really you
would be getting the full story, not just the 99 per cent fat free.

You would know really if that product was healthy for you or not at a glance. So you could decide
on the best option for your family.

JENNIFER MACEY: But Prof Louise Baur says the hospital can help guide families towards healthier
lifestyle patterns which will prevent greater problems for children later in life.

LOUISE BAUR: Interestingly enough, the best results we have for long-term outcomes are when
children who are obese are actually treated then if you have adults who are treated.

And I think so if you get good treatment early on, you can have a much better outcome but if you
are obese as a child and don't have that actually treated and particularly if you are obese as an
adolescent, then that is more likely to persist and to be a long-term problem.

Obesity as a child is about a warning flag to a family to think about how do we actually provide a
healthy lifestyle. How do we actually turn things around and it can be very challenging.

ELEANOR HALL: Professor Louise Baur from Sydney University is chair of the New South Wales Centre
for Overweight and Obesity. She was speaking to Jennifer Macey.