An Australian state’s health chief has advised parents to ban their children from soft drinks and fruit juices in an attempt to reverse an alarming rise in childhood obesity.
Releasing new figures that find 20% of children in Queensland are now overweight, and a further one in 10 are obese, chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young warned parents that adults are “failing their children abysmally”.
“Many parents think fruit juice is a healthy alternative, but it is a poor substitute for whole fruits, and is loaded with kilojoules. The high acidity level masks the fact that fruit juice has about as much sugar as a soft drink.
“My message today to any parent listening is if you can only do one thing to improve the health of your children: at least cut back on their consumption of sugary drinks.”
The Australian Beverage Council, which represents Coca-Cola, Pepsi and a range of soft drinks, juice and cordial companies, said it was disappointed by Young's "simplistic approach" of advocating a blanket ban.
Chief executive Geoff Parker said the real issue was ensuring a balance between activity and what a child was consuming.
The report’s other findings suggest that only 29% of Queensland children eat enough vegetables, half eat takeaway at least once a week and 43% spend two hours or more each day in front of a screen for entertainment.
Immediately after Young’s statement, the state’s health minister, Lawrence Springborg referred to the current situation as a “fat epidemic”, although he admitted that the state would not consider tabling any healthy eating laws to tackle this.
Parents must step in
He said it was up to parents to take responsibility to ensure healthy eating at home. Furthermore, Queensland’s budget could not stand further government action as more than half of the state’s health budget is being spent on “preventable lifestyle illnesses,” the minister revealed.
"We are talking about a cost of billions and billions of dollars in our health system alone.”
Addressing earlier claims by Young that other countries had been looking at ways to legislate, with Ireland for example investigating a proposal to ban junk food TV advertising at certain times of the day, Springbord replied that he was unsure if such a radical reform would ever be rolled out to cover food in Queensland.
With up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in each 375ml can of soft drink, a child drinking one can a day will consume 18kg of sugar in a year.
In 2006, 21% of children aged from 5-17 years in the state were overweight or obese—a figure that has steadily grown about one percentage point each year since then.
“In population terms, this is about 45,000 more overweight or obese children in Queensland in 2011, taking into account population growth and increasing prevalence,” added Young.