Tackling childhood obesity
Why is this important to the people of NSW?
Children who are above a healthy weight can have psychological, social and health issues. Immediate health problems can include asthma, bone and joint complications, sleep disturbance, with earlier onset of diabetes and heart disease.
Our research tells us that in NSW:
- 22 per cent of children aged 5-16 years were above a healthy weight
- only 26 per cent of children were active enough
- 43 per cent spent more than two hours per day on TV and computer games
- 45 per cent of children regularly drink sweetened drinks
- 62 per cent of children eat enough fruit and only five per cent of eat enough vegetables.
How are we tracking?
So far, our programs have helped stabilise overweight and obesity rates in children in NSW to 21.4 per cent (247,000 children) in 2017.
By June 2025 we will have reduced overweight and obesity rates by five percentage points within 10 years. That means 62,000 more children will be a healthy weight in NSW.
Programs to tackle childhood obesity
What are we doing?
Helping kids to get active
Parents and guardians can claim up to $100 in vouchers per school child each calendar year to reduce the cost of registration and participation for sport and fitness activities.
The Active Kids initiative aims to get more children and young people participating in physical activity in NSW. Vouchers are not means-tested and are available to every school child wanting to get active through sport and recreation.
Increasing community education and awareness
We will drive partnerships with key stakeholders to support children and young people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
We are emphasising the positive benefits of healthy eating and active living for the whole family. Right now, we are:
- improving Make Healthy Normal with new messages for families
- supporting GPs and health professionals to identify children above a healthy weight and refer them to appropriate programs, such as Go4Fun
- helping people make lower-kilojoule choices when eating out through the NSW menu labelling initiative.
Healthy eating in school canteens
The healthy school canteen strategy focuses on increasing the availability of healthy food and drink options in school canteens to make the healthy choice. This includes introducing new simpler canteen guidelines for all of our schools with public schools transitioning over a three-year period (2017-19).
The map below shows the healthy school canteens in NSW.
Healthy school canteens
Source: Department of Education, NSW Health
We agree there is more to do
Our next areas of focus are:
- enhancing the Go4Fun® community-based program for Aboriginal families, and delivering an adapted program to regional and remote communities through face-to-face group discussions, online and over the phone
- extending the Get Healthy in Pregnancy service to more people across NSW to all public maternity services
- promoting uptake of new NSW weight management tool for health professionals
- implementing a framework to provide healthy food and drinks in health facilities, for example hospitals.
Marrickville Public School – Made to order
Just about everything on the menu is made from scratch at Wil’s Canteen at Marrickville Public School in Sydney’s inner west. The canteen is operated by Wil Angus, who likes to make the food fun as well as healthy and appealing.
“What can be good for you can also taste good, be interesting, be enjoyable and be a talking point," said Mr Angus.
Principal Kerry Chambers says healthy eating also impacts on the students’ learning as well as their physical wellbeing.
“They feel healthy, they feel happier and they learn more," said Ms Chambers.
The canteen’s healthy menu reinforces the healthy living lessons taught in the school and is a hit with parents.
“The Healthy School Canteens Strategy was a perfect fit for our community," said Ms Chambers.
Bourke Street Public School – Bike to Bourke
Cycling to school is a family affair at Bourke Street Public School where around 80 per cent of students regularly walk, scoot or ride their bikes to school – or hitch a ride on mum or dad’s electric bike.
The Bourke Street Cycleway, which runs from Woolloomooloo to Redfern was completed in 2012. It provides a safe and easy way for parents to get their kids to and from school – and then to continue to their workplaces after drop off.
Local mum Lydia Ho, who is also General Manager of BikeWise, a company that delivers cycling programs for children and adults for the City of Sydney Council said she was inspired to start the Bike to Bourke campaign when her eldest child was ready to start school.
“I approached the P&C and the principal to see if they were interested in running an incentive program and we were able to obtain a matching grant from the council,” Mrs Ho said.
“We set it up as a competitive thing, where kids were competing to ride as much as they could to school.
“Cycling to school is just a way of life, the kids really don’t think about it – it’s an organic thing and they just do it, it has just become the norm.”
Bourke Street principal Peter Johnston said about 80 per cent of the schools kids walk, cycle or scooter to and from school each day.
“With the bike path came the bike riding and walking to school because of the congestion. Then we introduced the healthy canteen and the vegetable garden went in," Mr Johnston said.
“The kids are calmer and more energetic, they are active happy and healthy."
Mr Johnston has some advice for other schools considering an active travel to school program – to start off small, little things lead to bigger things.
What can you do?
Parents and carers can offer healthy food options and get active with their kids! Communities can also support healthy living by making sure there is access to fresh, affordable food and ways to encourage activity, such as safe playgrounds and cycleways.
- Check your child or teenagers weight status using this handy weight status calculator
- If you are a health professional take a look at these resources on the Healthy Kids for Professionals website
- Help your family and local community develop healthy habits with Make Healthy Normal
- If you think your child is above a healthy weight, check out Go4Fun®
- Help your kids to eat well and be active with the Healthy Kids website
- Approach your early childhood service about participating in Munch & Move
- Contact your child's primary school about introducing Live Life Well @ School
- Ask your sports club to Finish With the Right Stuff
- Ask your school what is being done to promote healthy eating, and support the school's efforts to implement the Healthy School Canteens strategy
- Support your school's efforts to implement the NSW Premier’s Sporting Challenge