Obesity Australia
A woman places pizzas on a rack during the Italian Festival in Sydney June 8, 2008. Reuters/Daniel Munoz

Australian children are putting their health at serious risk and even straining their system a lot, a new study has revealed. According to the researchers, more than 30,000 Aussie children may be considered severely obese, and in the past two decades, the problem has grown exponentially, the national study on children’s health has revealed. Researchers are worried of the fact that they had underestimated obesity problem in Australia and the extent of the problem may be much more than anticipated.

The study used four national surveys considering children aged seven to 15 from years 1985 to 2012. The biggest rise was found in 2007. The number of obese children with severe obesity jumped by 50 percent in 2007 (20 percent in 1995 to 30 percent).

Associate professor Sarah Garnett from Sydney's Westmead Children's Hospital expressed concern stating that the actual extent of the problem may not be reflected properly in the figures as some of the heavier children opted out of the study and refused to get involved.

“Certainly when we look at the 2012 survey, I think about 20 percent of the households that were involved, the children actually opted not to be weighed and measured,” Garnett added.

Children with severe obesity need to be given specialist care, unlike overweight and obese children, as severe obesity brings with it high-risk health problems and “that includes things like pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, sleep problems, hypertension and other cardiovascular risk.” Unfortunately, there are not enough paediatric obesity services to look after those with severe obesity and failure to treat them will have negative implications for not only the individual but also Australia’s healthcare system as a whole.

Garnett added that children with severe obesity suffer weight-based victimisation, have a poor quality of life and sometimes even die prematurely. Severely obese children have body mass index (BMI) of 35, equivalent to that of adults. At their age, BMI should not exceed 25. Although severe obesity had a genetic component, environmental factors do play a huge role too. Strict diet and regular exercise are a must for these children.

Garnett also emphasised on the importance of preventive measures and the need for better weight management services. More research into alternative interventions is also crucial to take care of severe obesity.

“We should try and make the environment easy for everyone to follow a healthy diet, to undertake physical activity and cut down the amount of time spent in front of the screens,” Garnett told AAP.