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Small steps can beat childhood obesity: UC research

11 November 2015: Australia's rates of childhood overweight and obesity could be turned around with changes equivalent to cutting one small chocolate bar and getting in 15 minutes of exercise according to research from the University of Canberra's Health Research Institute (UC-HRI) published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

In collaboration with marathon legend Rob de Castella AO MBE, the University's researchers are working to fight the decline in physical fitness and increase in childhood overweight and obesity in Australia.

Professor of public health Tom Cochrane said one in four Australian children are overweight or obese, but the changes needed to more than halve that figure are surprisingly small.

"We asked what it would take to reverse the increase seen in the prevalence of overweight in Australian school children over recent decades," Professor Cochrane said. "We were surprised by the answer: just a small daily dietary restriction equivalent to just one treat-size (15 gram) bar of chocolate and about 15 minutes extra of moderate physical activity per day."

"By our estimates, those relatively small changes could cut the current 25 per cent prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity to nine per cent in around 15-18 months," he said.

The findings are based on a sample of more than 31,000 Australian school children from the ACT, NSW, SA and Queensland collected since 2000 by Mr de Castella's health promotion charity, SmartStart for Kids.

Mr de Castella said Australia, and many other societies globally, face a significant challenge in tackling child obesity, with many causes linked to the current rates.

"Each day kids are exposed to a series of factors which affect their weight, such as the availability and exposure to food and drink; loss of opportunities for play; and the uptake of television and other media which encourage sedentary lifestyles," Mr de Castella said.

"However, this research demonstrates that child obesity can be addressed and throws down a challenge for Australia to do better for its children and their future health and wellbeing."

This is the first in a series of research studies by UC-HRI aimed at reversing both the decline in physical conditioning and increase in excess body weight seen in today's children.

Professor Cochrane said the rate of childhood overweight and obesity is among the most pressing public health issues which UC-HRI is committed to addressing.

  • A copy of the study is available upon request.
  • Professor Cochrane is available for interview. Interviews with Mr de Castella are available on request.

Contact the University of Canberra media team:
Claudia Doman: 0408 826 362
Marcus Butler: 0438 447 810