Reducing childhood obesity – for the community, by the community

with Amber Petty and Professor Steve Allender

One third of Australian primary school children are now overweight or obese. Global expert in obesity prevention Professor Steve Allender explores the complex drivers behind the statistics and shares good news about successful community-led obesity prevention programs that really make a difference.

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In the past 30 years, the rates of childhood overweight and obesity have risen alarmingly. With research showing obesity is difficult to reverse, and evidence building about the consequent chronic disease burden on individuals and society, Professor Steve Allender is on an urgent mission to save our children from a lifetime of poor health.

“Obesity is a marker for a lot of other important things, like what we eat, how much we eat, our activity levels, how well we sleep, our social relationships and a pointer for a whole lot of other health risks,” he points out.

As head of one of the largest research groups in Australia dedicated to obesity prevention, Steve believes solving the problem lies in empowering communities to create healthy environments to live in.

“Rates of overweight and obesity haven’t increased over time because individual decision-making has changed radically,” he says. “They’ve increased over time because the social conditions in which people are making decisions about activity and food are changing and make it much harder for us to make healthy choices.

“What we currently have is a situation where unhealthy is normal and conditions are set against the healthy thing being the easy thing. But we know that when everybody in a community is pushing really hard in the same direction to improve the health of their kids, the kids get healthier.”

Professor Steve Allender is a Professor of Population Health and Director of the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation. He leads a team of researchers focused on applying innovative approaches from systems science to community based obesity prevention and has a particular interest in the emerging burden of chronic disease in developing countries and the possibilities for using complex systems methodologies in community based interventions.