CSIRO report: levels of childhood obesity have remained largely unchanged for the past decade

Research casts doubt on ‘obesity epidemic’

New government research shows that levels of childhood obesity have remained largely unchanged for the past decade.

For the first time since the mid 1990s, government scientists asked a large number of Australian children (4,400 between the ages of two and 16) about what they eat.

In a survey that also included questions about physical activity, CSIRO researchers found that while most children get enough exercise, time in front of television and computer screens has blown out dramatically.

The survey found 72 per cent of children are in the healthy weight range, but 17 per cent are overweight, 6 per cent are obese and 5 per cent are considered underweight.

The relatively unchanged levels of childhood obesity comes despite a common conception in today’s society that Australian children are in the grip of an obesity epidemic.

This was not an issue addressed by the study or by any reportage I’ve yet seen, but I wonder whether part of the perception that there is an “obesity epidemic” is related to shifts in the mass media beauty standard to a much thinner beauty ideal – for men as well as women (male models/actors these days have awesome muscle definition, but not that much muscle bulk, which means that the defined muscle outlines derive from a very low body fat level).

P.S. Anyone who wants to add to the panic about the alleged obesity crisis, please read this page at Shapely Prose first, kthxbai.

Categories: Life, media, Science

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13 replies

  1. There’s another aspect of that report that I’m just plain finding hard to believe. From WA Today:

    The survey tracked the eating and exercise habits of 4487 boys and girls aged between 2 and 16 over one week and found that 61% of children aged 4-8 were eating the required 1-3 servings of fruit a day, but a mere 1% of those aged 14-16 were eating enough fruit.
    While it found that only 22% of 4-8 year olds were eating the required 2-4 serves of vegetables a day, the numbers dramatically dropped in teenage years with only 5% of 14-16 year-olds getting the required amount.

    This would mean that 99% of people in their mid-teens were eating 0 servings of fruit a day, and 95% were eating no more than 0-1 servings of vegetables. Really? No lettuce or tomato in the hamburger or ham sandwich, no banana grabbed on the run, no vegetable with dinner (including potato), no curry or chilli or stir fry or burritos, no fruit whatsoever, at these numbers?
    (I’ll confess to a baseline scepticism about CSIRO’s nutrition “research” anyhow, but this would stretch my belief either way.)

  2. That’s ‘heartening’ news. Boom boom!
    But I wonder if the results would be the same if they’d extended the study back 20 or more years.
    I read Shapely Prose’s piece. I dunno about this idea of being fat not being bad for you. When I googled heart disease and obesity, I found a lot of links disagreeing with it. For instance this from the Australian Heart Foundation.

  3. The Australian Diabetes Foundation also reckons there’s a strong link between Type 2 diabetes and being overweight.
    Sorry, if it’s a bit off-topic, but I’m sceptical about Shapely Prose’s arguments, to which you referred.

  4. My son was part of that survey done by the CSIRO. The lettuce in a burger is not enough to count as a “serving” as far as their survey was concerned. Which is part of the reason why it looks like many aren’t eating ANY fruit or veg or only a small amount of it when in fact they are eating some, just not enough by survey standards.
    You will also notice that the number that don’t exercise exceeds the number of overweight or obese. So there are thin kids who don’ exercise but we don’t hear the outrage about that. Or about the number of underweight kids, which is equivalent to the number of obese kids. Or even that the BMI was not designed to be used as a measure until an individual is fully grown and as such is not appropriate to use for children. Or even that the BMI is a crock of shit full stop.

  5. I’ve thought for a while that the “obesity epidemic” is somewhat imaginary, because the local school pretty much reflects my own school when I was a child – majority of skinny and in-between kids with one or two fatties.

  6. @Fine: Correlation is a wonderful thing, but it ain’t causation.
    Our society assumes overweight and poor eating are connected; eating a shite-ton of sugar on a regular basis will fuck your insulin; poor eating leads to type 2 diabetes; society assumes poor eating = fat = type 2 diabetes. Hurrah for society.

  7. I answered my own question. It’s just lazy journalism again- no one bothered to read the whole report.
    What they did was define the needs of a 9-13 yo as 1 serve of fruit and 3 serves of vegetables, and the needs of a 14-16 yo as 3 serves of fruit and 4 serves of vegetables; and those figures only applied when potatoes and juice were excluded.
    Something not mentioned in any of the press that I can see is that teenage girls were the group least likely to be eating the recommended daily amount of the various food categories, and least likely to be getting enough exercise. Teenage girls were in the highest risk group for deficiencies in thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and iodine.
    Also, most of the children were getting over an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. Children were getting more than the recommended amount of screen time, but the authors don’t seem to have made any effort that I can see to correlate this with physical activity.
    The study also noted that obesity correlated with lower energy intakes, not higher. (There were steps taken to minimise under-reporting, also.)

  8. And now…Queensland wants to make fat people pay for their own health care. http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,24448955-1248,00.html Yeah, if fat people are supposed to be so sick, let’s make it HARDER for them to get health care.

  9. This study has that re-assuring sniff of low key reality about is so I’m inclined to its findings. The obesity “epidemic” and “crisis” panic often comes from self interested parties or publicity seekers.
    The reliance on BMI is no doubt flawed.
    However there is little doubt that diabeties 2 and other serious chronic illnesses are highly related to overweight and excessive intake of less than ideal foods.
    In additon the evidence from hard nosed real world decisons (without much health or PR leanings) points to much larger people. Airline seats, bigger meal portions just about everywhere, sturdier engineered hospital beds and lifting apparatus being required, MRI scanners with larger openings, dentists needing wider chairs, health service waiting room chairs needing to be stronger construction, clothes for big people, ambulances having to upgrade to wider and heavier people and having to pay closr attention to lifting such people.
    The list goes on but it does point to at least some real world recognition of heavier people being around.

  10. There are bigger airline seats? Where?
    FXH, none of your other accommodations say anything about a childhood “obesity epidemic”, which is the topic of the post. For that matter, none say anything about an adult “obesity epidemic”. You’re also seeing a lot more wheelchair ramps and audio loops around than there used to be – is that evidence that we’re experiencing a paraplegia and deafness epidemic?

  11. I agree nothing about a childhood obesity epidemic – but I’ve said before I don’t think there is one. I’m not convinced there is an adult obesity epidemic.
    I am however convinced there is some evidence of an increased number of bigger, heavier and wider people needing accomadation by bigger and heavier equipment. I’m not convinced this points to an epidemic.

  12. For what it’s worth Lauredhel, I doubt my brother has eaten any fruit since he finished primary school. He does eat veggies, but only because he married someone who cooks. If he was a bachelor he would cheerfully live on rice/pasta/bread with meat.


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