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Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Address to the sports industry leaders summit

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

Introduction

My ministerial and parliamentary colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you David (Morgan, President of Sport Industry Australia) for your introduction.

I commend Sport Industry Australia for organising this event because sport and sporting organisations are a very important component in arresting rates of obesity.

As the first-ever federal Minister with responsibility for children’s issues, the health and welfare of Australia’s children is one of my biggest concerns.

I’m passionate about finding solutions that will bring down the levels of childhood obesity in this country.

Let me say at the outset that as a parent, I firmly believe the primary responsibility for children’s health and wellbeing rests with parents.

It is the responsibility of all the key stakeholders, whether they be Government, business, teachers, sporting organisations and health professionals, to give parents the assistance they need to help educate their children on leading healthy lifestyles.

This is a whole of family, a whole of community and a whole of government responsibility.

Watching sport, not playing it

Australians love a sporting hero. We have world-class players in all popular sports, and we pat ourselves on the back when:

  • Matthew Hayden scores a world record 380 runs,
  • when Jana Pitman storms home in the hurdles,
  • when Ian Thorpe takes another world record,
  • when Lauren Jackson is named the 2003 WNBA Most Valuable Player and
  • hopefully, when the Wallabies win the Rugby World Cup in a few weeks.

We take personal pride in these achievements, and we often take personal credit as well. “We” won this or that, “we got the gold medal.”

But too often, “we” are sitting in front of the television, eating high fat/high calorie snack foods and drinking beer or soft drink, watching these great athletes.

At the Davis Cup, and other tennis matches, you see advertisements aiming to get the family down to the local tennis club to have a go themselves.

This is what we want to encourageoff the play-stations and into the playgrounds; out of the armchair and into the action.

No matter how old or unfit people are, being physically active is something that most people can do to improve their health.

It doesn’t have to be hard work – it can be as simple as a walk to the shops, cycling or walking to work or doing some gardening.

Being overweight can make people self-conscious. One of the newspapers (Courier Mail) ran a story last month about a boy who had stopped exercising – playing rugby league – because the other kids teased and bullied him about being fat. He’s now doing tae kwon do but wants to get back on the football field as soon as he can.

And this young man is not alone. Almost a quarter of Australian children share his problem.

The figures tell us that more than 40 per cent of children play no sport or participate in any physical activity.

You would know this because you are working with communities on the ground.

One of the main things I have to say to you today is that you have a important role to play in encouraging children to stay with sport.

All children deserve the opportunity to enjoy sport. Not all children will become the best at it, but the lessons they learn about teamwork and commitment are very valuable life lessons.

As “Magic” Johnson said “All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them”.

The size of the problem

Earlier on, you heard about how serious the obesity problem is in Australia.

I believe what we are seeing is the health and wellbeing of our children and adolescents under threat, now and in the future.

It’s ironic, because in this day and age, obesity is one of the most common preventable child health issues.

Although adult obesity rates are far higher, childhood obesity is a serious concern because it increases health risks not normally associated with youth.

Type 2 diabetes, for example, was almost unheard of in young people until recent years and is largely related to increasing obesity rates.

We know that overweight or obese children are more likely to stay obese as adolescents than slimmer children with some studies indicating that up to 50 per cent of obese adolescents remaining obese in adulthood.

The most significant long term consequence of childhood obesity is its persistence into adulthood with all the associated risk factors for heart disease such as raised blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar.

Apart from the personal and other costs to the people involved, there will be increased pressure on our health system.

In 1998, the direct cost of treating the major obesity-related illnesses in Australia was over $464 millionaround 2 per cent of national health care spending.

The latest estimates suggest that the true costs of obesity could actually be anywhere from just under $700 million to just over $1200 million a year.

As a nation, we simply can’t afford to leave that unchecked. We need to turn this problem around.

I strongly believe we all have a responsibility to try and deal with the condition before children become adults.

It makes sense that the earlier in life we tackle this problem, the greater our chance of turning it around.

Why are so many people overweight or obese?

Obesity is usually caused by our energy intake from food and drink exceeding our energy expenditure through physical activity.

However, a wide range of environmental and social factors influence this energy balance.

Unfortunately it is a reality that our lifestyle more conducive to behaviours that lead to obesity.

Food intake and physical activity patterns are the main behaviours which determine energy balance.

High-fat, high energy-dense diets and sedentary lifestyles are the two factors most strongly associated with increasing obesity worldwide.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that:

  • just over half the population does 150 minutes or more physical activity a week – the recommended minimum.
  • between 1980 and 1999-2000 the proportion of obese men aged 25-64 years rose by almost 80 per cent.
  • In the same period the obesity rate among women rose 2.5 times.
  • From 1985 to 1997 the prevalence for overweight increased by 60-70 per cent and obesity increased 200-400 per cent.

The study also looked at the influences of physical activity and TV viewing times on obesity.

Amazingly, some Australian kids spend a full working week35 hoursin front of a TV or video.

The statistics show that children who watch more than 10 hours of television a week are more likely to be overweight.

Children with TVs in their bedroom are also more likely to be overweight.

Sadly, most young people aged seven and above are inactive, and girls are even less active than boys.

Of course, other factors influence these trends.

These days, parents worry about traffic and ‘stranger danger’.

They are nervous about sending their children out to play.

At the same time though, fewer parents are joining in the fun of play and exercise with their children.

Too many seem to have forgotten how great it is to spend time together as a family, doing simple thingstaking the dog for a walk, kicking a ball or flying a kite at the park, going swimming, riding bikes.

The bottom line is: we must become healthier, fitter adults and we need to raise healthier, fitter children.

National Obesity Taskforce

I said earlier that Governments can’t fix things alone. But because of the size of the problem, we are determined to take a leadership role.

First and foremost, may I pass on the apologies of the new Minister for Health Ageing, Tony Abbott, who is unable to attend today.

Minister Abbott has asked me to share with you information about the National Obesity Taskforce, which was established at the end of last year by Australian Health Ministers.

The Taskforce has been working to develop a national agenda for action to tackle childhood obesity, in collaboration with a wide range of sectors such as:

  • the food industry,
  • advertising and media industries,
  • sport and recreation,
  • consumers,
  • education,
  • retailers,
  • urban planning,
  • workplaces,
  • health professionals and
  • health non-government organisations.

These bodies have been working together on some initiative and I know that the Australian Association of National Advertisers and Commercial Televisions Australia are keen to assist with an advertising campaign.

The Taskforce, initially focusing on children, adolescents and their families, is developing a number of strategies that will assist families and communities to be more physically active and to eat healthier foods.

These strategies will draw together the contributions of a range of sectors and settings, including childcare settings, schools, primary health care, neighborhoods, communities, food supply and media.

The Taskforce will deliver its final report to Health Ministers in November.

I have been working closely with my health colleagues on this issue and I am very pleased to have the involvement and support of the sports sector in particular, towards finding national solutions.

We must all work together to overcome the existing barriers that prevent our children from leading healthy and active lifestyles and the ‘obesogenic’ environments in which we live.

In addition to the work of the Taskforce, the Australian Government is funding the National Child Nutrition Program, to help improve the health and wellbeing of Australia’s children.

This three-year community grants program aims to improve the long term eating patterns of children 0-12 years and their families through 110 community based projects around the country.

These projects are giving communities a chance to improve the health of local children through innovative healthy eating initiatives.

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for children, both at school and outside of school hours.

That is why the Department of Health and Ageing is funding the development of physical activity guidelines to provide advice about the amount and types of activity recommended for Australian children and adolescents.

It is anticipated that these will be available in 2004.

Education

Our schools also have a very important role to play in promoting physical activity.

However, the time dedicated in the school week to physical education and sport is declining, particularly in primary schools. I think this is a real shame.

I know that the State and Territory Governments, who are responsible for setting curriculum, are looking at this issue.

Meanwhile, in my own ministry of children and youth affairs, we are promoting healthy and active children through a number of initiatives.

National Early Childhood Agenda

Looking at the national picture, we now have a major initiative, which I hope will also make a significant difference to the health and well being of Australian children.

We are developing Australia’s first National Early Childhood Agenda.

The National Early Childhood Agenda represents a commitment by all Governments to achieve better outcomes for our children.

The Agenda is strongly supported by the Prime Minister, and all the Australian Government ministers who, in some way or another, are responsible for policies that touch on children’s lives.

We are committed to begin at the beginningto support parents, families, schools and communities to nurture and care for our children.

The Government has had some help with the agenda, so far. We have now finished extensive consultations across the country on what the Agenda might include.

We have strong support for three priority areas needing immediate attentionearly child and maternal health; early learning and care; and supporting child-friendly communities.

In the area of early child and maternal health, the discussion paper highlighted a couple of specific points for action. These are early child health and preventing obesity.

Alongside these, we will be giving attention to the specific health and developmental needs of Indigenous children.

The consultations highlighted the need for a particular focus on programs for Indigenous people. I wholeheartedly share this view.

Work and Family Agenda

The National Agenda for Early Childhood has to also take into consideration issues around the balance between work and family.

There is not doubt that working families today are very time poor and it is often so easy to turn to foods of convenience and cut out the regular exercise.

There is also the issue when both parents work that children’s after school sport is compromised.

These important issues are currently being considered as part of the Work and Family taskforce.

Research

Of course, if we are to achieve long-term change we need a solid, evidence base.

We have just started a $20 million Longitudinal Study of Australian Childrencalled Growing Up in Australiaand we’re also going to do a Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children.

These are national projects and, for the first time, will give us a fix on how Australian children are faring.

The studies will track babies and four-year-olds over time.

They will ask questions about predictive factors, including diet and physical activity – for example, something like: “In the last 24 hours, has your child eaten fruit, vegies, hot chips, biscuits, and so on?” and “How many serves of fruit/vegies would your child eat in one day?”

We will ask about

  • weight and height;
  • about children’s and parents’ enjoyment of physical activity;
  • children’s preferences for spending free time;
  • whether a child has problems with a range of physical activities, for example, walking, lifting something heavy;
  • time spent watching TV or playing with a computer;
  • what other activities they’re involved in, including sports; and
  • how often parents do 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity per week.

I believe the results are going to make a positive difference, not just for government policy-makers, but also for others in the professions and in the community who work with children, like you.

Healthy Kids Australia magazine

My department is about to issue the fourth issue of a new 4 page information sheet called Healthy Kids Australia.

Put together with help from the departments responsible for sport and health, the magazine gives parents practical ideas about healthy meals and snacks for kids, and tips on how to include physical activity as part of everyday life.

Supporting community projects

The other way the Government helps is to support projects – large and small – that are trialling new ways of reaching children and parents.

For instance The Rainbow Food pilot program in Byron Bay, uses “eat by colour” principles to combine fun with nutritional information, emphasising variety and balance.

It’s delivered by people in the community, for the community. Often this approach works best because local people, not governments, are finding local solutions to their own problems.

Another project involves The Oz Child – Parents Charter – Lifestyle and Nutrition Program.

Being run in Mornington, Shepparton and Tweed Heads, this is using a grant of $125,000 from my department.

The idea is to get people thinking about the risk factors that contribute to childhood obesity through a community development model.

With support from the Royal Children’s Hospital and the International Diabetes Institute, the program targets schools in disadvantaged areas, educating parents about nutrition and physical activity in the hope that changed attitudes and behaviours will result.

The Sporting Heroes projectwhich has my full supportis receiving $1 million over two years.

Over recent years, we have seen increasing and welcome interest by professional sporting clubs in contributing to the community, through elite athletes acting as role models and mentors.

The Sporting Heroes project builds on this, with people learning from athletes about leadership, teamwork, volunteering and having a go.

Four organisations are involved:

  • The Port Adelaide Football Club has a Power Community Youth Program. This involves school visits, aimed at 10 to 15 year olds, by high profile AFL players to promote messages about healthy lifestyle choices, education, goal setting and decision-making. Our funding will extend the program in rural areas and help them introduce female athletes into the program.
  • The Victorian Institute of Sport uses their athletes to promote messages through schools and community groups about getting involved in the community. This program is directed mainly at disadvantaged regions in Victoria, but it also reaches Tasmania and South Western New South Wales.
  • Corrugation Road is a TV series, with related publications, that will use leading Indigenous sport people as role models focussing on issues around education, employment and community well being.
  • Sport Connect Australia will involve elite athletes in mentoring programs and community strengthening activities in disadvantaged regions. The program will be supported by partnerships with local government, community groups and business.
  • George Smith, the Wallaby player, is also doing a series of visits to on behalf of my department to encourage young people to get involved in their communities.

We are determined to do our bit to offer kids role models who are not just seen starring on television, but who are there with them every day, at school, in the home, in the community, working with them to build a fitter nation.

Labor policy

I note that the Labor Party will release their obesity policy today.

I welcome any contribution to this important issue however, it is important not to be simplistic on this complicated issue.

Labor’s policy is not the first “concerted federal effort to improve the general health and wellbeing of all Australians.”

As I have outlined, the Coalition is focussing on these issues.

However, we must remember that it was only 2 years ago that issues of underweight and pressure, particularly on girls, to be very thin, was the focus of public and media concern.

Conclusion

Thank you for listening to me speak today and giving me the chance to tell you about just some examples of what the Australian Government is doing to help prevent obesity.

In my view, there are good opportunities for sporting organisations to work in partnership with us on this – especially as we continue to develop our National Agenda for Early Childhood and through the many projects we support in local schools and communities.

Sport has a very important role to play in the development of our children.

It teaches very valuable life lessons that will hold children in good stead throughout their lives.

Many of you would be aware that we fielded a Parliamentary Rugby team to play other international Parliamentary

Whilst I am still feeling the effects of the game against the French with 3 cracked ribs, I must say the camaraderie that I experienced not only with my Coalition colleagues, but with Labor and Democrat colleagues was a very new experience.

In this place it is not often that we mix with our Opposition.

However, it is sport that brought us together, it is sport that Australia is renowned for and it is sport that will help us to combat Australia’s growing childhood obesity problem to “Give Our Kids a Sporting Chance”.

Now, I understand I will take some questions and then I have to go to a meeting.

I am hoping to go to the cocktail party tonight so I hope to talk to you later.

Also here there are a couple of departmental officials if you have some specific Education or Health questions that I can’t answer, I am sure they will be able to help you out.

ENDS