Right strategies can work in combating childhood obesity, a major international review shows.
The research is part of the Cochrane Collaboration's Review on Childhood Obesity Prevention and includes 55 studies worldwide, making it the largest assessment on childhood obesity prevention ever conducted.
Researchers have compelling evidence that programs targeting children in settings where they spend the most time, and focusing on policies, curricula, and cultural change for healthy eating and physical activity, can prevent and reduce obesity in children and adolescents.
Professor Elizabeth Waters, of the McCaughey Centre at the University of Melbourne, said this research shows that obesity in children can be prevented.
"We now have compelling evidence that strategies can be implemented to halt the growing rates of childhood obesity. In Australia one in four children are overweight or obese. We know that doing nothing is likely to result in increased overweight and obesity, so we need to take action. Children's lives and their health shouldn't be the victims of commerce and industry. We can see that policies and programs, developed and embedded in partnership with settings in which children spend time, will improve their health and social outcomes, and reduce obesity."
Beneficial initiatives include:
Including healthy eating, physical activity and body image in school curricula.
Increasing the number of opportunities for physical activity and the development of fundamental movement skills each week in children's settings.
Improving the nutritional quality of food supplied in children's settings, particularly schools.
Creating environments and cultural practices within settings that support children eating healthier foods and being active throughout each day.
Professional development and capacity building activities which help to support teachers and other staff as they implement health promotion strategies and activities.
Supporting parents to make changes at home that encourage children to be more active, eat more nutritious foods and spend less time in screen-based activities.
"Our findings show that obesity prevention is worth investing in. The strategies to focus on are those that change environments rather than individuals. We need to embed effective interventions in health, education and care systems, so that we can make population-wide, long term impacts on obesity levels in Victoria," said Professor Waters.
VicHealth's Manager of Nutrition, Julie Woods, said the research comes at a time when governments are switching on to the value of prevention.
"Obesity is a serious health issue in Australia and it looks as if it's only going to get worse over time, unless we intervene now," she said.
"We need to head this epidemic off with smart strategies that target kids, or else type 2 diabetes will blow out healthcare costs by $8 billion by 2032.