A new study has shown that the obesity epidemic among Australian children has been grossly overstated, and that the problem is concentrated among poorer families and some ethnic groups. The study has revealed that children from low-income families are twice as likely to be obese as children from high-income families. It also suggests that this risk among children from low-income families increases if they are from Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, Aboriginal or southern European backgrounds.
Based on a national sample of 8500 children aged six to 18, this is the first study to measure health, fitness and fatness among different social classes and ethnic groups. Jenny O'Dea, associate professor of nutrition and health education at the University of Sydney, said that the child obesity rate was "not rocketing out of control", and appeared to be stabilizing.
"There's a suggestion the whole of Australia is at risk of obesity and that's been blown out of the water by this research," theagecom.au quoted her as saying.
Seventeen per cent of children from a Middle Eastern background, eight per cent of Aboriginal children, and seven per cent of from a southern European background were found to be obese during the study. By contrast, 5.7 per cent of Anglo-Australian children, and about 4.6 per cent from Asian or Indian background were obese.
While Pacific Islanders showed the highest rate of obesity at 21 per cent, Dr O'Dea said that their greater muscle mass might provide part of the explanation. "Even if the measure is adjusted to take that into account, they are still at greater risk of obesity," she said.
The study also showed that almost nine per cent of children from low-income families, 6.3 per cent from middle-income families, and 4.3 per cent from high-income families were obese. Dr O'Dea stressed the need for working in culturally sensitive ways with communities to determine the best way to reduce the risk of diabetes.
"We want to avoid stigmatising already socially marginalized groups," she said.