PARENTS should ban their children from having soft drink and fruit juice until they reach at least high school age to arrest skyrocketing obesity rates, Queensland's chief health officer says.
Jeannette Young will release her fourth snapshot of Queenslanders' health today showing 26.6 per cent of children aged five to 17 are overweight or obese. "I've just been documenting kids getting fatter and fatter and fatter," Dr Young said last night, describing the obesity epidemic as the biggest health challenge facing Queenslanders this century. "I think we've failed a whole generation of kids. We need to start using some shock tactics. We've got to be dramatic because nothing's worked. I'm calling on all parents to ban their children from consuming soft drink and fruit juice. "I'm not saying a government ban, because government can't do it. It's got to be parents."
Dr Young said a 375ml can of soft drink contained 10 teaspoons of sugar. "If a child drank one can per day, that's over 18kg of sugar over the year," she said. "If a child drank one can of soft drink a week, in a year, that's nearly 3kg of sugar. "About a quarter of Queensland children drink one or more cans of soft drink a week." Dr Young said children should only be drinking water or milk. "This is something that every family, anywhere in the state, can implement immediately," she said. "It won't solve the obesity epidemic, but it's a good place to start." "It's an easy thing to do, you'll save money doing it and it's better for you." Dr Young recommended the ban for all children, not just those who were already overweight or obese, to ingrain good habits from a young age.
Dr Young's report will also highlight an urgent problem with the number of hospital admissions, which are growing at such an alarming rate the health system will struggle to cope in less than 20 years. Dr Young said hospital admissions have been increasing by an average 60,000 a year or 4 per cent annually for more than a decade. The Health of Queenslanders' report shows 1.77 million admissions to both public and private hospitals were recorded in 2010/11 and that is projected to double to 3.5 million in 17 years. "If we don't do something about it, the health system will not be able to cope," Dr Young said. "Doubling the workload over 17 years is enormous. "We won't be able to provide the same quality of care."
The number of obese adults in Queensland doubled between 1996 and this year with 57.7 per cent of the state's adults now rated as overweight or obese. Taking into account population growth and increasing prevalence, that equates to an extra 30,000 people or more than the population of a city as big as Mount Isa joining the ranks of the obese, every year, on average, for almost two decades. Dr Young said obesity reduced a person's median life expectancy by two to four years. Severely obese people can expect to live eight to 10 years less than the average.
Dr Young expressed concern that being heavy was becoming normalised. "There is a tendency for overweight and obese adults, particularly males, to think they are an acceptable weight," she says in the report. Health problems related to a high body mass include heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, sleep apnoea and musculoskeletal problems. But as obesity skyrockets, the number of Queenslanders who smoke daily has plummeted, with an average of 10,000 Queenslanders kicking the habit annually, averting an estimated 2000 deaths. Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said regulations controlling issues such as junk food advertising may be necessary to curb the problem, and he called for a national debate on the issue.
Mr Springborg said: "Obesity, it's going through the roof. Our campaigns are failing, or it would be declining. It's time that people in the community start to collectively realise we've got a big problem, because a lot of the messages are falling on deaf ears." Despite the challenge of obesity, Dr Young's report said life expectancy for Queenslanders had continued to climb, increasing by 2.7 years in a decade to 79.4 years for men and 83.9 years for women.