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Childhood obesity problem overstated -

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Childhood obesity problem overstated

AM - Monday, 22 October , 2007 08:21:00

Reporter: Barbara Miller

TONY EASTLEY: A researcher says the notion that all Australian children are at risk of obesity has
been blown out of the water by a new study of 9,000 children from across the country.

Jenny O'Dea, an Associate Professor of Health and Nutrition Education at the University of Sydney,
says the research has shown the problem is heavily concentrated in low-income families and children
from a Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern or Aboriginal background.

Dr O'Dea is speaking here to Barbara Miller:

JENNY O'DEA: There has been a suggestion that what we should do is weigh and measure every child
and send a note home to the parents. Well, I don't think the parents will find that particularly
helpful since bigness and fatness even, is often valued in some of these ethnic groups. So, I think
that whole approach needs to be more, more thought through and sensible and less knee-jerk and less
emotional and in consultation with those communities.

BARBARA MILLER: Would you go as far as to say we need a different strategy, intervention strategy
for each ethnic group, I mean, where does one draw the line in how differentiated the approach
should be?

JENNY O'DEA: I think it's glaringly obvious to me that you have about 20 per cent of your
low-income Middle Eastern children, and your low-income Polynesian, Pacific Islander children, who
are actually obese, then those communities need something, some special program for their children.

BARBARA MILLER: You also found that the obesity problem was not rocketing out of control, but
appeared to be levelling off. What would the explanation for that be?

JENNY O'DEA: If you just look at the obesity category, then that has increased and the main
increase was in the 1980s, 1990s. So in the 1980s, there was a very, very low risk of obesity. It
was about one per cent.

It went up so that in 1995 it was five per cent and that's where the theme of: "Oh, child obesity
is tripling in our children". Well, it went from a low number to a low number, and now in 2006, I'm
getting 6.4 per cent of children are obese, I wouldn't call those numbers particularly exponential.
I don't think it's a great increase.

Where it is a great increase, however, is in those low-income kids and in those Middle Eastern
Kids, the Aboriginal kids and the Pacific Islander kids. So, I think we need to look more clearly
at the data, at the statistics and see where it really is a problem and where we could really make
a big difference.

TONY EASTLEY: Dr Jenny O'Dea, from the University of Sydney, speaking there to Barbara Miller.