Community program proves that childhood obesity can be reversed
16 October 2009
A Geelong-based program has proved for the first time that it is possible to reverse the trend of obesity in preschool children.
The community-based Romp and Chomp healthy eating and active play program for preschoolers resulted in a drop in obesity and overweight of 2.5 per cent in 2-year-olds and 3.4 per cent in 3.5-year-olds.
"The impact the program has had on the children involved is extraordinary," said Dr Andrea de Silva-Sanigorski, the project leader of the Deakin University team that provided support, training and evaluation for the project.
"The rate of overweight and obesity in 2-year-olds dropped from 17.1 per cent to 14.6 per cent, while for 3.5-year-olds the rate went from 18.6 per cent down to 15.2 per cent. That the program proved so successful is testimony to the power a community has to improve young people's health."
The Romp and Chomp program targeted around 12,000 children under five years old and their families. The four-year program focussed on creating children's environments that promoted healthy eating and physical activity consistently across the community. Activities were conducted primarily in long day care centres, the family day care service, preschools, the Maternal Child Health Service, regional immunisation services, local government and community health services.
As well as the drop in obesity rates, Dr de Silva-Sanigorski said there were positive changes to the children's eating and drinking habits.
"We found that the children ate more vegetables and less packaged snacks, drank more water and milk and less fruit juice. These are important changes to promote both good general health and also good dental health."
The kindergartens, child-care centres and family day care providers involved in the program were active in implementing policies and promoting the program's messages.
"They were integral to its success and were well supported by allied health and dental health professionals from Barwon Health and our other health and community services," Dr de Silva-Sanigorski said.
"There was consistent promotion of healthy eating and physical activity for young children. Sweet drinks were prohibited, there was a substantial adoption and implementation of healthy eating policies, parents were encouraged to adhere to healthy eating guidelines and there was reduced use of unhealthy fundraising activities."
Dr de Silva-Sanigorski said that the Romp and Chomp program has the potential to impact on children's health in the long term.
"It is possible that this program has set up the children involved for a lifetime of good health by establishing healthy eating and activity behaviours early. It is important that programs such as Kids – 'Go for your life' are occurring in the primary school setting, so that this good work is not undone when the children reach school."
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