Every Australian child’s height and weight would be measured and recorded in primary school unless parents “opted out” of the checks under a drastic proposal to tackle Australia’s obesity crisis.
Checks would be done at school for all children in Year 1 and Year 6 at minimum, or every two years at best, to help the Government understand the scope of the problem.
It is part of a plan by the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE) to tackle Australia’s weight problem given the country ranks sixth-worst among OECD nations behind Mexico, the US, New Zealand, Finland and Chile.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Government would consider the proposal.
He said the primary responsibility for children’s health rested with parents and the States who run schools but that he would refer the proposal to the joint State and Commonwealth body, the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, to consider and provide advice.
GLOBE predicts the real number of overweight Australians is likely to be even higher than official figures, which show one in five children aged two to four is overweight and one in four children aged five to 17 is overweight or obese.
The centre, which collaborates with the World Health Organisation and is based at Deakin University, called for the compulsory height and weight checks in a submission to the Federal Government’s inquiry into obesity.
But Health at Every Size Australia, a group which lobbies for a focus on healthier lifestyles not body shape or size, says the checks could backfire.
“We know without a doubt when kids are given the impression that weight control is important that that actually leads to worse eating habits,” HAES Australia spokeswoman Fiona Willer said.
She also warned it could lead to increased stigmatisation of high body weight. GLOBE’s Professor Steve Allender said the checks were necessary given obesity affected two-thirds of adults.
“There are probably communities in Australia who are doing a really good job of improving the health of our kids and we can’t learn from them and improve the health of the whole nation unless we understand who is doing well,” he said.
Children would not be told their results and data would not be connected to a child’s name but used as part of an age group for broader analysis.