Medaussie #3: Commotion on the Playground

With every problem comes a solution or at least an attempt to solve the problem. The last medaussie post focused on the how obesity has become a problem in both the U.S. and Australia, but not on what is being done about it. This begs the question “What is being done about obesity?” This post will just focus on childhood obesity initiatives in the U.S. and Australia.

 

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Last post I referenced the Let’s Move! campaign when discussing childhood obesity as it is the United States’ largest initiative to combat childhood obesity. The Let Move! campaign was launched on February 9, 2010 with the overarching goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that U.S. children can lead healthy fulfilling lives. The initiative spawned the creation of the nation’s first-ever task force on childhood obesity to review all programs and policies relating to nutrition and physical activity in the U.S. In addition, the task force is to develop a national action plan to maximize federal resources and benchmarks toward obtaining First Lady Michelle Obama’s goal (“Let’s Move”, 2016). To achieve this goal, the task force is centered on the 5 main objectives listed below:

  1. Creating a healthy start for children (by eliminating childhood obesity).
  2. Empowering parents and caregivers.
  3. Providing healthy food in schools.
  4. Improving access to healthy, affordable foods.
  5. Increasing physical activity.

It seems that some progress has been made towards the reduction in childhood obesity rates. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported relative decreases in 2-4 year old obesity rate 0.3% to 2.6% across 19 U.S. states/territories during 2008-2011 in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published in 2013 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Although these changes are small, they represent significant steps toward the elimination of childhood obesity as the process involved a number of key stakeholders. Disney, Darden, Walmart, the American Beverage Association, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association were just a few of the many organizations involved in changes that were made to food advertising, fresh food availability, physical activity programs and educational programs as part of Let’s Move!. A full list of the partners and accomplishments of Let’s Move! can be found here.

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Photo Credit: “Face to face”, © 2009 Andy, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Now let’s have a look at Australia’s approach to childhood obesity. Unlike the U.S. approach to childhood obesity, Australia doesn’t have a single overarching federal initiative similar to Let’s Move!. Instead the problem of childhood obesity is tackled through a number of smaller government –sponsored specialized campaigns that target various contributing factors of obesity (Australian Government Department of Health, 2016). In addition, several states have their own child obesity initiatives. A number of federal programs are listed below:

  • Get set 4 life- Habits for Healthy Kids
  • Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program
  • Healthy Spaces and Places
  • Learning from Successful Community Obesity Initiative
  • Healthy Weight information and resources

One of these programs that is specific to children is Get set 4 Life, a program that provides parents practical information on following key areas focusing on the health of 4 year olds:

  • Healthy eating
  • Regular exercise
  • Speech and Language
  • Oral health
  • Skin and sun protection
  • Hygiene
  • Sleep patterns

This information is organized in a brochure that can be found here. This guide focuses primarily on the role parents and caretakers have on influencing a child’s habits. For instance, one of the sections provides food recommendations and tips for how to achieve these daily goals (Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2008). This is similar to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate, providing similar diet recommendations for 4 year olds.

According to Get set 4 Life, a typical 4 year olds diet should look like this:

Food Group Serving Recommendation Example Serving
Fruits 1-2 medium pieces of fruit 1 medium sized banana
Vegetables 2-4 child palm sized vegetables 1 cup of green leafy vegetables
Grains 3-4 servings 1 slice of bread
Meat & Poultry 1 child palm-sized serving Cooked chicken(80g)
Dairy 2-3 servings 6.8oz of yogurt
Healthy Fats Limit amounts No recommendation

Note. Adapted  from “Get set 4 Life,” by Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, (2008) by Commonwealth of Australia

 

In comparison Myplate recommends the following diet for 4 year olds.

Food Group Serving Recommendation Example Serving Size
Fruits 1-1.5 cups of fruit 1 large banana (8” to 9” long)
Vegetables 1.5 cups 2 cups raw spinach
Grains 5 ounce equivalents 1 regular slice of bread
Meat & Poultry 4 ounce equivalents 1 oz cooked chicken without skin
Dairy 2.5 cups 8oz of yogurt
Healthy Fats 4 teaspoons ½ of a medium avocado

Note. Adapted  from “What is MyPlate,” by United States Department of Agriculture, (2016).

 

Between the two guidelines, the same general recommendations are made. Although in some areas the Australian recommendations tend to be more conservative (grains) and liberal (vegetables). In addition, the given Australian recommendations don’t provide a set amount of healthy fats that are acceptable for daily consumption. Instead, most of the information urges the reader to limit fat and oil intake as much as possible.

There is little evidence to evaluate whether or not Get set 4 Life has been successful. This is because an accompanying program named the Health Kids Check, was dismantled by the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbot in 2015 (Medew, 2015).  Healthy Kids Check sought to measure common variables such as height, weight, BMI, eating habits, physical activity and more through an examination via a child’s general practitioner. Critics of the program cite that most of the problems detected where related to speech and language, not factors of obesity.

Without evidence to support health outcomes, it is difficult to compare Get set 4 Life and Let’s Move!. Despite this, it is important to note that at least both countries are making active efforts to curb childhood obesity. Further research and implementation of evidence based initiatives will be vital in fight against childhood obesity. It will take a community effort to eliminate childhood obesity. Parents, caretakers, children, stakeholders, and governmental bodies must work together for any sustainable solution to childhood obesity is to be reached. It takes a village to raise a child.

Next post will break away from the current posting trend and explore an area of health that is unique to Australia. Stay tuned!

If you’d like to learn more about the exchange program at Deakin University, click here!

References

Australia Government Department of Health. (2016). A healthy and active australia. Retrieved

from http://www.healthyactive.gov.au/internet/healthyactive/publishing.nsf/Content/home

Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. (2008). Healthy eating. Get set 4 life- habits

for healthy kids (1st ed., pp. 12-14). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. (2015). Healthy eating for children.

Retrieved from http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55f_children_brochure.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2013).  Vital Signs: Obesity Among Low-Income,

Preschool-Aged Children- United States, 2008-2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 62(31, 629-634. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6231a4.htm?s_cid=mm6231a4_w

Lets Move!. (2016). About let’s move. Retrieved from http://www.letsmove.gov/about

Medew, J. (2015, ). Healthy kids check axed by abbot government. The Syndey Morning Herald

United States Department of Agriculture. (2016). What is MyPlate?.

Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate

Featured Image Photo Credit:

Danielle MacInnes: daniellemacinnes.com

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