OBESITY in Australian children has doubled in 10 years as an increasing number of parents fail to realise their child is fat.
University of Newcastle nutrition researcher Dr Clare Collins said the number of obese children jumped 100% in the years between 1985 and 1995.
"Now we've got one in five children overweight or obese, and if you go back to the 1960s it was only about one in 30," she said. "If you look at old school photos, there may have been one or two overweight children in your class, but today there are five or six."
Dr Clare Colins said the problem was exacerbated by the fact that more than 30% of parents with overweight children did not realise that their child was overweight and were failing to act on the problem.
"I guess as a parent they are saying 'he or she's all right — that's puppy fat', but in this day and age puppy fat is a real myth and we know that being overweight in childhood is related to a string of illnesses," she said.
Research has shown that obese adolescent girls were more likely to have lower education levels, lower incomes and be living below the poverty line.
Other studies have shown that boys who are overweight are twice as likely to die, or have cancer, or suffer a stroke before they reach the age of 55 — regardless of their adult weight.
Dr Clare Colins said overweight children were experiencing high blood pressure, mechanical and metabolism problems, and the beginning of heart disease.
"These kids are sick and it is more of a tragedy when it is not being recognised for what it is," she said.
Dr Clare Colins is in the process of establishing a program for overweight children focusing solely on the parents helping children to be more active, eat healthy foods and manage stress. It is modelled on overseas programs which have had better success in reducing children's weight by only involving the parents.
"It is unfair to children to be made super aware that they are overweight and different from others if you don't give them a lifeline and the parents are the only ones who can do that, ," Dr Clare Colins said. "The parents have the power to turn off the television and take their kids to the park, they have the power over the groceries."
Dr Clare Colins blamed "obeseogenic environment" for the growing rates of childhood obesity.
"Some of the biggest changes for kids have been that they don't play as much or their play is sedentary and they don't actually play outside any more," she said.