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Fed: Obesity, tooth decay and teen births plague Aussie kids

By Melissa Jenkins
17 Jun 2009 12:59 AM
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CANBERRA, June 17 AAP - Almost one-quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese, while tooth decay in six-year-olds is on the rise.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2009 snapshot of the nation's children, released on Wednesday, gives us a tick for declining asthma hospitalisation and better leukemia survival rates.

But we lag behind other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations on infant mortality and teenage births.

Australian children still don't eat enough fruit or vegetables, despite public health campaigns.

In 2007, 17 per cent of Australian children were estimated to be overweight and six per cent obese, according to the institute's report.

Obesity increases a child's risk of developing asthma and Type 2 diabetes.

If children continue to be overweight into adulthood, they are at a heightened risk of heart attack and some cancers.

The national guidelines recommend children aged between five and 18 years old should have at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

They also recommend children be restricted to no more than two hours of non-educational screen time daily.

While 74 per cent meet the physical activity guidelines, only one-third of children meet the screen-time guidelines.

"Far too many children spend more than the recommended time in front of a video screen," the institute says in the report.

Only 60 per cent of children aged four to eight and around half of nine to 13-year-olds eat enough fruit.

Just two per cent of nine to 13-year-olds eat the recommended daily serve of vegetables.

Tooth decay in children aged six and 12 declined in the early to mid-1990s but has climbed again in six-year-olds.

"In recent years, there has been a slight increase in tooth decay among children, which may be related to changes in dietary patterns, including less drinking of fluoridated mains water and increased sugar consumption, and changes in school dental programs," the institute says.

Six-year-old children living in the poorest areas have twice the rate of tooth decay as those living in the wealthiest areas.

The rate of indigenous children who are decay-free at the age of six is much lower than non-indigenous children, at 21 per cent compared with 54 per cent respectively.

Babies born to teenage mothers in Australia make up five per cent of all births, at 18 births per 1,000, which is higher than the OECD average of 17.

Australia ranked 20th out of 30 OECD countries in 2002, with a much higher teen birth rate than Korea (2.7 per cent), Switzerland (5.5 per cent) and Japan (6.2 per cent).

The indigenous teenage birth rate is five times the non-indigenous rate. Girls living in remote parts of the country are also five times more likely to be mothers than their city counterparts.

Teenage mothers face increased risks of miscarriage, pre-term delivery, low birth weight and perinatal mortality.

Children of teen mothers have a higher likelihood of becoming teenage mums themselves, according to the report.

Australia's infant mortality rate of 4.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2006 is slightly better than the OECD average of 5.2, but still triple the rate of the best performing country, Iceland.

The infant death rate dropped by 40 per cent between 1986 and 2006 from 5.4 to 3.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.

One important achievement for Australia has been its drop in asthma hospitalisation rates, which are down by one-third since 1996/97.

In 2006/07, there was about 21,000 hospitalisations for asthma among children aged up to 14 - a rate of 520 per 100,000 children.

Advancements in early detection, treatment and research have contributed to a boost in the five-year leukaemia survival rate between 1992-97 and 1998-2004 from 72 per cent to 83 per cent.

The National Health and Preventative Taskforce is due to deliver its blueprint on improving Australians' health to the Rudd government by the end of June.