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Govt puts onus on parents to curb child obesity

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The Federal Government has flagged its reluctance to use taxes and regulations to shape the nation’s eating habits, as politicians and public health experts around the world monitor Mexico’s experiment with a levy on sugary drinks.

Health Minister Peter Dutton emphasised the responsibility of parents to ensure their children had healthy diets in an interview with the Courier Mail earlier this month.

“The vast majority of parents do the right thing, but those who use electronic devices in place of activity or sport, and [who] default to fast food each night instead of healthy meals, need to take responsibility,” Mr Dutton said. “Food taxes and advertising bans don’t trump parental responsibility. I want government out of people’s lives.”

Mr Dutton’s comments came as research was released showing that children as young as four years are developing type 2 diabetes as a result of poor diets and unhealthy lifestyles, setting them up for a lifetime of health problems.

National Diabetes Services Scheme figures revealed by The Sunday Mail show that at least 52 children in Queensland have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Cairns Hospital endocrinologist Dr Ashim Sinha told the newspaper around 20 children from the State’s far north and western areas had been diagnosed in the past year, including an obese five-year-old girl.

Dr Sinha said children as young as 13 years were being prescribed blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medicines, as well as drugs to ward off the progression of diabetic kidney disease.

He said the problem was most prevalent in Indigenous communities, where genetic, lifestyle and socioeconomic contributed to the situation.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said it was “shocking” that children younger than 10 years were developing type 2 diabetes.

Highlighting the limitations of relying on parents to ensure children ate well and had a healthy lifestyle, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency has warned that many adults themselves understand the link between obesity and ill health.

The Agency, which is subject to speculation that it may be abolished by the Abbott Government as it searches for savings, noted in a submission to the National Commission of Audit that “people do not always choose in their self-interest in relation to health”.

It said the lack of a clear understanding among many of the link between obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes demonstrated a clear role for Government in promoting healthy diets and lifestyles.

Adrian Rollins