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Obesity crisis hitting kindy kids

Rob de Castella stands in the Giralang Primary school yard and display's in his left hand a plate of healthy affordable food and his right  unhealthy and quite expensive food.

Rob de Castella stands in the Giralang Primary school yard and display's in his left hand a plate of healthy affordable food and his right unhealthy and quite expensive food. Photo: Colleen Petch

MORBIDLY obese kindergarten children double the average weight for their age, year 6 pupils weighing 100 kilograms and 11-year-old girls heavier than grown men are evidence of a looming health crisis in Canberra that requires a multimillion-dollar intervention to fix, according to former world champion marathon runner Robert de Castella.

Mr de Castella, who runs the not-for-profit SmartStart for Kids program, which has been delivered to 52,000 overweight children in the past 13 years, said current programs were not intense enough for the unhealthiest 1 per cent of territory pupils and has called on the ACT government to increase funding in the upcoming ACT budget.

''It's absolutely critical,'' he said.

Obesity in ACT kindergarten classrooms is rising.

Almost 16 per cent of children were overweight or obese in their first year of school in 2010, according to the Chief Health Officer's report last year.

This was an increase from 14.6 per cent in 2009 and 12.8 per cent in 2008.

Figures collected by SmartStart highlighted one boy who weighed 100 kilograms at his year 6 graduation last year despite being just 158 centimetres tall. That makes him two kilograms heavier than ACT Brumbies outside centre Clyde Rathbone.

A primary school girl not even 1.5 metres high tipped the scales at 73 kilograms at the age of 11 - heavier than some adult men of average height.

But perhaps the most extreme example cited by the program in its submission to the government was a morbidly obese kindergarten boy who weighed 49 kilograms and had a 59 per cent fat ratio, requiring ''significant intervention''.

With a body mass index of 35.5, the boy was off the top of the scale for kindergarten boys, which stops at 21.7, a number that already categorises someone as morbidly obese.

In last year's ACT election campaign, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher set a ''zero growth'' target for the ACT, which seeks to prevent the number of overweight and obese Canberrans from increasing in the coming years.

Ms Gallagher promised $2 million in annual grants to community sector healthy activities and extra funding for obesity programs.

Mr de Castella's submission calls on the ACT government to fund a $2.7 million program over three years for children at extreme risk, exposing the child's family to numerous experts including nutritionists and trainers.

''If a child can't run and jump before they leave primary school, then it's very difficult for them to lead a healthy life later on,'' he said. ''Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes but now we're seeing it manifest in teenagers.''

Other risks as they grew older included stroke, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

He said the $1500 per family program was cost-effective compared with pharmaceutical and surgical costs later in life, which were costing the ACT $9.36 billion a year as far back as 2008.

Despite Canberra's higher-than-average incomes, nutritionist Kate Freeman said that richer families did not automatically mean better diets.

''Reliance on convenience is higher than ever and this means higher in fat and sugar,'' she said.

Mrs Freeman said she would like to see more overweight children seeing nutritionists, rather than solely going to GPs.

''Unless you can translate nutritional information to the plate, it's of no use,'' she said.

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