The concerning gap in outcomes on childhood obesity between low and high-income families brought key community, Government and academic stakeholders together in June for a community sector roundtable convened by NCOSS. Given the Premier has nominated reducing overweight and obesity rates of children in NSW by 5% over 10 years as one of his twelve priorities, ensuring that subsequent investment benefits people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is critical.
Currently, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are at far higher risk of obesity, which can have a profound impact on their lives. We want to ensure that efforts to tackle childhood obesity reduce the socioeconomic gap rather than widening it.
Dr Chris Rissel, the Director of the NSW Office of Preventative Health, opened the roundtable with an overview of the initiatives being undertaken by the Ministry of Health in order to achieve the Premier’s priority. He emphasised that achieving this ambitious target would require investment in new approaches, together with a coordinated whole-of-Government response involving action from Departments other than Health, including Planning and Transport, and collaboration with community and industry stakeholders.
Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are at greater risk of obesity because of characteristics in their neighbourhood and family which influence their dietary and activity patterns. Recognising this, Roundtable participants brainstormed solutions to address childhood obesity on each of these levels. The group agreed that it is whole of community solutions that achieve the best results for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Broadly agreed priorities included:
- Supporting the Premier’s priority with an equity target to prevent the socioeconomic gradient of obesity from widening;
- Embedding health as an objective in planning law and processes as an important step in facilitating access to green spaces and fresh food, and to give communities greater control over their food environments.
- Whole-of-community approaches led by Local Health Districts.
The importance of price signals – such as the introduction of a sugar tax – was also identified as a key strategy to support healthier decisions. And while participants discussed the value of sustained and consistent education campaigns, they also highlighted the importance of addressing affordability issues. For many families, a healthy diet is simply out of reach.
Following the Roundtable, NCOSS will publish a report identifying priority recommendations directed at ensuring the Premier’s Priority benefits children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.