Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

ADJOURNMENT Childhood Obesity (1)

October 19, 2006

Mr HAYES (Werriwa) (12.46 p.m.)—Childhood obesity has reached critical levels, with
recent reports indicating that the prevalence of obesity has trebled amongst young
Australians, and the number continues to rise. It is estimated that one in five Australian
children are overweight or obese. The figures in New South Wales indicate that it could
be as many as one in four. Alarmingly, one in 10 boys in Year 10 have liver damage and
one in five suffer from high blood pressure as a result of being overweight. Some experts
predict that the current generation of children might be the first group of children to die
at an earlier age than their parents as a consequence of obesity.


This issue needs to be addressed. Childhood obesity is a public policy problem. Not
addressing childhood obesity has public policy implications for our health budgets and
implications for the Australian economy and potential long-term effects for the future. In
many circumstances childhood obesity results in obesity in adults and, as such, places
those adults at risk of serious medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Obesity is reported to have caused more than 100,000 Australians to suffer from type 2
diabetes, almost 380,000 to suffer from cardiovascular disease and 225,000 to suffer
from osteoarthritis. Such conditions place considerable pressures on our health system
and this, in turn, places pressure on our future budgets. Access Economics has
estimated that the cost of obesity in Australia reached $21 billion last year, including a
direct financial cost of $3.767 billion. Therefore, the public policy imperative of this
matter is undeniable.


The Minister for Health and Ageing continues to neglect his duty to us and to future
generations by persistently denying that childhood obesity is a real or significant
problem. He has tried to tell the Australian public that it is ultimately a problem for
parents. That is clearly wrong. In question time yesterday the minister was quizzed on
his response to obesity in a series of questions from both sides of the House. We heard
him wax lyrical about the government’s efforts to tell us about how much money has
been dedicated to research. Research is fine, but, as the head of paediatrics at
Campbelltown Hospital, Dr Andrew McDonald, has advised me, this matter should be
brought to the attention of all policymakers. He says there is no doubt that, in the minds
of medical practitioners, there is a socioeconomic dimension to this problem.
Children from poorer families are more likely to be obese, because fatty food is cheaper.
Accordingly, outer metropolitan areas of Sydney are disproportionately affected due to
their relative socioeconomic standing. I am not critical of local parents; it is the nature of the problem. But, when family budgets are under pressure from rising mortgage costs,
rising petrol costs and cuts to take-home pay, parents look to where spending cuts can
occur. Unfortunately, food and the quality of food is one such area.


Having identified and understood the breadth of the problem, I concede that there is no
simple answer. Much as with addressing a road toll, a suite of measures is required.
Banning the television advertising of junk food is certainly a good start but, as the
Sydney Morning Herald reported, the cleverest marketers will find their way around that.
Other measures that address the contribution of our lifestyle need to be encouraged. The
proper resourcing of abstention programs at schools and, particularly, things such as
Active After-School Communities programs is certainly also to be encouraged. Such
programs should be properly resourced to encourage more kids to participate in healthy
activity. (Time expired)

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST