Issue 3 • 2022
© 2022 The Royal Australasian College of Physicians
The RACP highlights the need to curb childhood obesity
Obesity is putting Australia’s kids at a heightened risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, depression and cancer. The RACP is advocating to change this.
The RACP strongly supports a proposal by Independent MP Sophie Scamps to ban junk food advertising targeting children in a bid to curb rising obesity rates among young people. This support is in line with the RACP’s successful “Kids COVID Catch Up” campaign, which is calling on governments at state and federal levels to address the pandemic’s long-term learning, developmental and health impacts on children and young people.
In Australia, two-thirds of children under 16 years of age who have needed ICU-level care for COVID-19 have excess weight – which is at least twice the proportion of children with excess weight in the general population.
The RACP’s “Kids COVID Catch Up” campaign is calling for mandatory regulations on junk food advertising and marketing targeting children and young people. RACP President and Paediatrician Dr Jacqueline Small said, "In 2017 to 2018, almost one quarter of Australian children aged 5–17 were overweight or obese. This is a concerning statistic. “The Federal Government must take immediate action to introduce regulations to protect children and young people from unhealthy food and beverage marketing, as has occurred in some other countries with high childhood overweight and obesity.
“It is critical Governments limit the amount of screentime.”
Dr Small welcomed Dr Scamps’ bill and said it is an important step towards tackling Australia’s obesity epidemic. “Ensuring that appropriate regulations are in place is part of creating a healthy environment for children and young people to promote healthy eating and physical activity and set young people up for a longer, healthier life.” Dr Scamps will introduce a private member’s bill to Parliament that will significantly reduce children’s exposure to junk-food advertising during the times they are most likely to be watching television. The bill will also ban fast food companies from sponsoring children’s sports, which would undermine the message of healthy eating and physical activity that are key to preventing obesity in our children.
Dr Small says, “Early exposure to junk food marketing influences kids’ preferences, food purchases, and eating habits.” One under-appreciated knock-on effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that children with obesity are at a greater risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19. The RACP advocates for a national sugar tax – with the proceeds going towards government funding for preventive health initiatives, increasing access to healthy diets, and other measures for developing healthier lifestyles.
The RACP also campaigns for the Federal Government to revise the Health Star rating’s nutrient profiling algorithm in order to give stronger weight to sugar content.
Find out more about the Kids COVID Catch Up campaign.