Are Australian Kids Really Getting Fatter?

It has been a hot topic in the media this week that children and our youth are becoming vastly overweight, and losing their key gross motor and fine motor body skills, due to our societal changes.

This issue of the decline in children’s health and wellbeing over recent years is something that keeps me up late at night.

You see, I have worked with children since I was 16 years of age: as an instructor for the Surf Life Saving movement and then, after completing my Bachelor of Health and Physical Education, I have worked as a teacher for 14 years, and still do to this day.

In this time I have also brought up my own two children who are well into their primary school years with one about to embark on High School. I have studied health and wellness, and also personal training for many years to ensure my knowledge and expertise is of high quality.

However, during this time, the things I have encountered is quite truthfully shocking to say the least.

The Changes in Children’s Health and Wellbeing

I have personally seen drastic developmental and physiological changes in children and youth over the last 14 years.

There are children who come to school who:
– Cannot or have not picked up a pencil
– Cannot bounce a ball
– Are grossly overweight
– Have pimples on their skin as young as 5 years old
– Cannot attempt to tie a shoelace not only due to their lack of fine motor skill but also because they are unable to bend over to touch their toes
– They are unbalanced and cannot skip to a beat
– They have hands that resemble only swipe hands meaning they are so used to a screen that they cannot do the thumb to each finger fine motor action
– Using scissors is a difficult scenario and some cannot even open the packet of chips packed in their lunchbox.

These are all shocking facts that I see everyday due to the stagnate life that our children now live in.

Unfortunately, unless you deal with a range of children regularly, many people do not or will not possibly ever see this scary evolution.

As a society we must make changes immediately otherwise it is only going to get worse.

Solutions to this Rising Rate of Childhood Obesity

1. Add wellbeing to the Australian schools curriculum in addition to the current Health and Physical Education program.

Ensure all schools are covering the program of discussing wellbeing in all facets: anxiety and mental health, social media pitfalls, how to care for your body inside and out and food, fitness and happiness.

b.truth: During the past few years I have been trying extensively to change the thinking of schools.

Several schools have removed extension programs to their physical education lessons due to budget constraints – this deeply disturbed me.

Looking at the big picture, we are meant to be educating, inspiring and creating well-developed children to be effectively functioning adults and by removing these programs we have failed them as an educational institution.

Since their removal, there is evidence to suggest that the children who have missed this integral skill and development base (including my own children), are now struggling with basic body movement patterns.

There are more injuries in schools, less resilience from students, and there has been a decline in classroom focus due to the developmental aspects missing thus causing learning issues.

2. Increase daily gross motor skill sessions as part of our children’s daily routine

Parents and teachers are role models, and when we are positive about health and wellbeing our children will be also.

Simple fitness skills every morning before class time and simple skill based activities at home will do them wonders.

3. Change the anti-food programs and scare tactic signage (e.g. “Nut Free”, “Dairy Free”

Create positive posters and marketing for green plant based foods and embrace all foods for their wholefood qualities.

This is one of our biggest and most evident mistakes as a society: by showing children what they cannot eat in schools, we have changed what they are eating.

This scares parents into buying package foods. It is very difficult as a parent to find foods that the school will allow and are good for their children.

For children with anaphylaxis issues, we need to monitor & ensure their safety in school and day care centres. Simply banning highly nutritious foods, in a bid to stop parents suing schools for anaphylaxis reactions, is causing a greater problem.

Unfortunately such a ‘blanket ruling’ is changing the development of an entire group of children and youth. Nuts products are some of the most healthy and high fibrous foods creating a great food lifestyle for our children and adolescence.

It is important to note that ASCIA (the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) recommend NOT using a ‘blanket ruling’. Nuts are NOT banned in hospitals or air transport or shopping centres, but they are in schools.

Read more about nuts in schools here

4. Positive healthy food advertising

Developing a complete understanding of healthy balanced choices across all media. A big contender to food abuse is the over advertising of “extreme” food all for marketing purposes.

Children and young adults, not realising the cost on their body, take images of themselves and/or these products and share it on social media for likes and comments. E.g. donuts now come in every different version imaginable, with all types of accessories.

Of course they are delectable, and ultimately amazing, however these sugar loaded, slow processed, low fibre carbohydrates, are one of the biggest weight gainers and addictions to hit our society since cigarettes and soft drink.

Solution: Children are being targeted in these campaigns. They cannot say NO, and this is where we as adults must again take a stand, and justify the reasons why this is not OK to eat these extreme foods.

What we can do as a parent? 5 easy tips for better habits at home.

Talk about food and how it affects our bodies; discuss body function and going to the toilet – encourage them to tell you when they have been (obviously in well mannered moments) so you get an idea of how ‘regular’ they are.

Ask them about how their body truly feels after certain foods, and make them aware of how ‘junk food’ makes them feel compared to healthy foods.

Make food fun and enticing: make shapes with fruit and sandwiches; create smoothies with decorations.

Create a food and fitness plan together as a family: and stick to meeting whole health body goals for all the family (including the dog).

Move every morning as a family: get up a little earlier and get moving or do it in the evening after dinner rather than hitting technology.

Enjoy the time together, make fitness fun with games and enhance the positivity towards one another; this is not a competitive moment as moving our bodies is not a race – it is a necessity.

b.bonus tip: Something to watch as a family: the WALL-E movie. It is fun loving and informative look at where we as a human race never want to head. This delightful animated world is easy for kids to understand.

Let us all move together everyday; use our brains more effectively; use all aspects of our muscles and body and eat more green and plant based foods so we can be a strong, smart and enduring human race.

If we can all work together helping each other and guide our children informatively to make better choices for themselves we will create optimal health for all.

Health and Happiness always,

Related reading:

1. NSW Government say reducing childhood obesity rates is a ‘tall order’
2. Overweight & Obesity
3. Childhood obesity and overweight children
4. Childhood obesity