overweight children 380x264 Overweight kids: whose responsibility are they?Just last week we took the family to lovely beachside town outside of Sydney. I’m not going to mention the name because I don’t want to start a war with its residents.

What stood out about this town was not the beautiful scenery, but the number of fat kids walking around. I’m not just talking puppy fat. I’m talking obese.

Their beautiful young faces were beaming with holiday fun. At the age of 6 or 7 these youngsters should be filled with the promise of achieving anything in life. They will inevitably be weighed down by more hardship than they deserve. If they don’t shed the kilos they will suffer health issues, bullying and low self-esteem.

Walking alongside them in many cases were their red-faced, puffing parents. A glimpse of the future. I watched an older gent take his grandson down a super slide on a hessian sack. He was too big to get up at the bottom and growled with embarrassment at those who tried to help him.

The obscene backdrop to this scene was a sea of fast food outlets. KFC, Maccas, Ice-cream parlours and burger joints that shone more brightly than the sun glare off the water. Cheap, fast, tasty. The emphasis being on cheap. A five dollar burger? Or a salad sandwich that sets you back $8.50? It makes the fast food choice so much more palatable.

Of course it’s not a problem unique to this small holiday spot, though the flash of white skin squeezed into swimming suits for the first time this season made it stand out. Australia shamefully has the reputation of being one of the fattest countries in the world. Two thirds of our adults are over-weight or obese, leading to serious health issues like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

Greens Senator Bob Brown suggested at the Tax Summit that we should follow Denmark’s lead and slap a tax on fat. Has he forgotten about the GST?

GST is charged on processed foods and not on fresh foods. The 10-percent tax was introduced 11 years ago, yet obesity levels in this country continue to grow. Adding further tax will only hurt those who are already hurting – the families who find themselves trapped in a generational cycle of bad habits.

Denmark’s tax is also on dairy staples such as butter and cheese. On meat. Do we really want to deal another blow to our farmers? The Henry tax review advised not.

In the eastern suburbs of Sydney where parents are supposedly well educated and earn enough to buy as many salad sandwiches as they want, there’s a burgeoning industry in kids exercise classes and personal training. One organization advertises personal training sessions at $90 per hour. What?!

How about $90 for a season of soccer instead, and some good messages at home about nutrition and what it takes to grow fast and strong? How about treats in moderation? I’m talking about personal responsibility.

Jamie Oliver‘s an inspiration in this regard. His school dinners program set out to ban unhealthy food in British schools and prove that children will eat and enjoy fresh, healthy options. He also showed how it could be done cheaply. It worked. And the scheme has expanded to adults, too, having some fun cooking up healthy dishes for the family.

His solution is a smart one. It empowers people, doesn’t punish them. Our ministers could do well to take a leaf out of Jamie’s “Ministry of Food.” Prevention is much better than the alternative.

Actress and broadcaster Lisa Hensley takes this issue and shares it with Mamamia on Sky News:

This column first appeared in the Sunday Telegraph

Kellie Connolly is Principal of Connolly Communications, providing expert media training for corporations and individuals. She is also a regular commentator on media management, witha weekly spot on 2GB Radio’s “Damage Control” program and guest appearances on Sky Business and Channel 7′s Morning Show. You can read more about her here



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