Before we yell and scream for someone - anyone - to strap our fat kids to a treadmill, we need to look closer to home, says Xavier Toby.

Before we yell and scream for someone - anyone - to strap our fat kids to a treadmill, we need to look closer to home, says Xavier Toby. Photo: Illustration by Robin Cowcher

Aussie kids are apparently some of the fattest in the world.

The ‘Active Healthy Kids Australia’ report card recently graded our kids a ‘D-’.

Barely above a fail, and certainly nowhere near fridge-worthy.

If there were some sort of United Nations school camp, our children would be the ones picked on for being fatty boombas by kids from New Zealand, England, Mozambique and Mexico - all which rated near the top of the rankings.

If anything is going to spur Australian parents into action, it has to be that - not the fact that obese children are far more likely to turn into adults who suffer from the range of health and other consequences that go with being obese.

Such as struggling to find fashionable clothes that fit, paying more for food and working up a sweat by just breathing.

As long as junk food companies sponsor sporting events and chocolates being more accessible than bananas (and lollies keep tasting so damn good), completely wiping out childhood obesity is probably going to remain a fantasy.

I’ll tell you what’s also a fantasy? The headline that went with this study when it first appeared: “Aussie kids among the fattest in the world.”

The study included a total of 15 countries. So unless Russia or China, or some other superpower with not-so-secret dreams of world domination has been very busy overnight, I’m pretty sure there a few more than 15 countries on the planet.

One competition we’d do alright in would be a study of the world’s fattest leaders. Our Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Women might currently have far more problems than daughters, but you certainly can’t accuse him of being fat.

Despite needing a map of the world that was produced after 1800, this study did remind us of some useful information.

In particular, the recommendation that children get 60 minutes of exercise each day - it found that only 19 per cent of five to 17-year-olds in Australia met that minimum.

Now before we start yelling and screaming for schools, the government or anyone else to strap our fat kids to a treadmill, we need to look closer to home.

More specifically, we need to look at the home.

I don’t seem to be able to go on a date, talk to a friend who’s having relationship difficulties or listen in to a conversation at a café these days without hearing about how some trauma suffered in childhood is causing the person a lifetime of mental anguish.

Parents also seem to be extra-cautious to avoid causing any moment that might result in such a trauma. Why any parent takes their child to see Richmond play is beyond me.

What far fewer parents seem worried about is the lifetime of physical trauma caused by not forcing their own little fatty boombas outside for a bit each day.

The way we are emotionally shaped as adults is, in part, influenced by our childhood, in much the same way as our eating and exercise habits influence our physical shape as an adult.

This can change, but considering the sheer amount of work this would take, surely addressing the issue earlier to begin with would mean far fewer of our kids would end up as wide as they are tall.

It’s easy to claim that broader society should be doing more, and you’re probably right, but they’re your kids. You look after them.

It is understandable that parents worry about what might happen to their children if they’re allowed to play outside, walk to school and otherwise gallivant around unsupervised – and yes, your kids may be a tiny, incy bit safer inside, but there’s also a far slimmer chance that they’ll in any way resemble a slim adult.

By wrapping children in bubble wrap coated in cotton wool and shutting them up in the family home, they might never get even slightly dented, but you’re definitely breaking them.

Then parents complain that kids prefer to sit in front of screens.

Well, in that case, make them do it outside, where the glare is so intense that they struggle to see anything.

Even better, take the things off them. If they object? Well you’re the parent. You’re in charge. They might not like you for it, but years from now, they’ll be thanking you.

When I was growing up, being made to stay inside was a punishment. Now, it’s a punishment to be sent outside.

If our kids don’t get outside and run around more than once a while, it won’t just be the emotional problems the next generation will be complaining about. It’ll be physical problems as well.

Most importantly, this study comes out every year. Do we really want to keep losing to Mexico, Mozambique and New Zealand?

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.

His debut non-fiction book, ‘Mining My Own Business’ is available now.

Xavier
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