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MND: Your Daily Dose of Counter-Theory


Exercise will be compulsory in every New South Wales daycare centre and junk food will be phased out under a NSW Health Department plan to fight childhood obesity. Regulation foods and fitness programs will be rolled out across every childcare centre and pre-school under new guidelines recommended by a government working party. The authors of the government-commissioned report also recommended junk foods such as chocolate, chips, soft drinks and biscuits be eliminated.

The recommendations follow revelations overweight toddlers are being sent to dieticians while babies are sucking from soft drink bottles. The NSW report investigating obesity levels in two to five-year-olds is the biggest study of its kind in the country. It found eating habits in young children were setting them on an path to obesity. The Weight of Opinion survey is a three-part report commissioned by the State Government to investigate ways of tackling the obesity crisis in early childhood.

In the 10-year period from 1985 to 1995 the level of obesity among Australian children more than doubled – and tripled in all age groups and for both sexes. “The period from two to five is such a critical time in children development and you can really set good eating habits,” report author Deanna Pagnini said. There are currently no guidelines on physical activity for young children across the country and childcare and preschools set their own rules on what foods are allowed. A government working party is now determining how much physical activity young children need and the kinds of healthy foods that are acceptable.

Co-author, obesity expert Dr Michael Booth, said drastic measures were needed: “You go to the beach and see tiny kids with soft drink in their bottles – that is the most extreme but I’ve seen it. It sends a shiver up the spine.” Professor Booth said children as young as two needed to be educated about healthy foods. “The earlier you start the better. You even want to start before two because at the age they develop a taste for a wide variety of foods. Many kids refuse to eat vegetables because they have never developed the taste,” he said.

The Weight of Opinion report detailed alarming incidents, including an event with a toddler who had weight issues and had to be referred to a dietician. “We sent her off to see a local doctor, the doctor referred her to a dietitian, and this child was about three,” the report said.

The early childhood findings are the first part of the three part report which will also look at general practitioners as well as school teachers and parents, to be released over the next six months. The toddler section – released to The Saturday Daily Telegraph – said young children in formal care were a “captive audience that can be targeted with specific foods and required daily exercise. “(Efforts) need to concentrate on … changing the structural, economic, cultural and environmental factors that make it difficult to eat healthy foods and get adequate amounts of physical activity,” the report read.

Food Watch nutritionist Catherine Saxelby said it was tempting for time-poor parents to give their children pre-packaged foods. “It is quicker, self-wrapped and you know the child will eat it.” Ms Saxelby said modern mums and dads found it tough to battle the avalanche of snack food marketing directed at children. “We want them to love us so we buy them things they love. Generations ago if you were a fussy eater you went to bed without any supper,” she said.