Published 22 Nov, 2017

Childhood overweight and obesity is a major public health concern in Australia.1 Overweight and obese children are at risk of developing several preventable health conditions, and obese children are more likely to be obese in adulthood.1, 2 Adult overweight and obesity is in turn a risk factor for colorectal, breast (post-menopause), oesophageal (adenocarcinoma), endometrial, pancreatic, liver and kidney cancers (refer Indicator 1.3b – adult overweight and obesity). In the long term, obese children are also at risk of acquiring other chronic conditions; including, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and arthritis, and premature mortality.1

    Charts
    • Notes
      • Data sourced from ABS National Nutrition Survey, Australian Health Survey – Core Content and National Health Survey.
      • Error bars indicate 95% confidence intervals.
      • Persons aged 5-17 years.
      Table caption
      Crude rates
    • Notes
      • Data sourced from ABS Australian Health Survey – Core Content and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey - Core Content.
      • Error bars indicate 95% confidence intervals.
      • Persons aged 2-14 years.
      Table caption
      Proportion of overweight or obese children and young people by age, sex and Indigenous status, 2011-13
    • Notes
      • Data sourced from ABS Australian Health Survey – Core Content, and National Health Survey.
      • Remoteness was classified according to the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Remoteness Areas, see 'About the data' for more details.
      • Error bars indicate 95% confidence intervals.
      • Persons aged 2-17 years.
      Table caption
      Crude rates
    • Notes
      • Data sourced from ABS Australian Health Survey – Core Content and National Health Survey.
      • SES was classified according to the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD), see 'About the data' for more details.
      • Error bars indicate 95% confidence intervals.
      • Persons aged 2-17 years.
      Table caption
      Proportion of overweight or obese children and young people by socioeconomic disadvantage, 2011-12 to 2014-15

    Overweight and obesity is calculated using the Body Mass Index (BMI), a scale based on height and weight commonly used to indicate if a person is underweight, has normal weight, or is overweight or obese.3 BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by their height (in metres) squared.

    It should be noted that two data sources are used for this measure. Most data is taken from the National Health Survey, which defines children and young people as being aged 2 to 17 years of age. Data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is taken from the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey  which defines children and young people as being aged 2-14 years of age.
     

    In 2014-15, 25.8% of (or 1.2 million) children and young people aged 2 to 17 years were overweight (18.4%) or obese (7.5%).4 The prevalence of overweight or obesity was similar among males and females.

    The proportion of children and young people aged 2 to 17 years being overweight or obese generally increased with age, from 20.0% among those aged 2 to 4 years to 32.9% among those aged 16-17 years.4

     

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

    In 2012-13, 29.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 2 to 14 years were overweight (19.6%) or obese (10.2%).5 The combined overweight and obesity rates were similar among males and females.

    The proportion of children being overweight or obese increased with age, with the highest prevalence among those aged 10-14 years (37.4%).5 Among 2-4 year olds, females were more likely than males to be overweight (21.7% compared with 11.5%).

    The prevalence of Indigenous children aged 2-14 years who were overweight or obese was higher than non-Indigenous children.5 This was due to higher obesity rates among Indigenous children, both in males and females. Indigenous children aged 10-14 years were almost twice as likely to be obese as their non-Indigenous counterparts (11.8% compared with 6.3%).

     

    Remoteness and socioeconomic disadvantage

    Children and young people living in Outer Regional and Remote areas were more likely to be overweight or obese (35.3%) than those living in Major Cities (25.4%) and Inner Regional areas (22.0%).6 Nearly two in five females where overweight or obese in Outer Regional and Remote areas (37.3%) compared with less than a quarter in Major Cities (23.2%) and Inner Regional areas (22.9%). Among males, no significant differences were observed by remoteness of area.

    Looking at overweight and obesity prevalence by levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, children from areas of greatest socioeconomic disadvantage were more likely to be overweight or obese (34.7%) compared with those from areas of least socioeconomic disadvantage (22.3%).6 This was evident among females, with 38.6% of those from areas of greatest disadvantage being overweight or obese in 2014-15 compared with 23.8% of those from areas of least disadvantage. Corresponding differences were not observed for males, although males in the most disadvantaged areas tended to have a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity.

    A higher proportion of children and young people living in areas of greatest disadvantage were found to be obese (12.1%) compared with the corresponding proportion for those living in areas of least disadvantage (5.0%).6 By comparison, no significant difference was observed by level of disadvantage for children and young people being overweight.6

    This measure shows the proportions of children and young people who were overweight or obese.

    Numerator: Number of children and young people who were overweight or obese.

    Denominator: Number of children and young people whom had their height and weight measured

    There is a separate BMI scale for children and young people where BMI calculations take into account the age and sex of the person. The cut-off points for each BMI classification for children and young people are based on the corresponding cut-off points for adults aged 18 years and over. For example, a score of 24 for a 10 year old boy is equivalent to a score of 30 (obese) for an adult.

    The cut-points are sourced from Cole et al (2007), Establishing a standard definition for children overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey, 2000.

    In the 2011 Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage, attributes summarised by this index include low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and jobs in relatively unskilled occupations. A lower Index of Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates an area with relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates an area with a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general.

     

    Methodology

    Remoteness

    The Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS), was used to allocate participants to a remoteness area based on their area of usual residence.

    Earlier data used the now superceeded Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2011-2012 data used the 2006 ASGC and 2014-2015 data used the 2011 ASGC .

    Socioeconomic status

    The Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD) was used to allocate participants to a SEIFA quintile based on their usual residence (For 2011-2012 and 2014-2015 data the 2011 IRSD was used). 

     

    Data sources

    ABS 1995 National Nutrition Survey
    ABS 2011-12 Australian Health Survey – Core Content
    ABS 2012-13 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey – Core Content
    ABS 2007-08 and 2014-15 National Health Survey

     

    Data caveats

    The table below presents the age-groups of children and young people for whom height and weight were measured across the different survey years. The proportions of children and young people who did not have their height and/or weight measured are also presented in the table:

     

    Survey Year Age group in scope (years) Height and/or weight not measured (%)
    1995 2-17 N/A
    2007-08 5-17 32.5
    2011-12 2-17 19.5
    2012-13 *2-14 23.3
    2014-15 2-17 **37.7

    *BMI scores for children aged 15-17 years are based on classifications for people aged 18 years and over. 

    **For these respondents, imputation was used to obtain height, weight and BMI scores.

    Although BMI is correlated with body fat, it does not measure body fat directly or the distribution of body fat. Therefore, two individuals with the same BMI can have very different patterns of body fat distribution which contributes to different levels or risk of developing chronic diseases. However, BMI is a simple tool in measuring and monitoring trends in overweight and obesity across different populations.

    The 2011-12 NHS data in TableBuilder and 2014-15 NHS data have been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential data. Discrepancies may occur between sums of the component items and totals. 

    Activity in this area

    Data

    Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.00.55.001 – National Health Survey, 2014-15. Canberra: ABS; 2015 [Accessed September 2016]; Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/PrimaryMainFeatures/4364.0.55.001?OpenDocument

    Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4727.0.55.001 – Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Updated Results, Australia, 2012-13. Canberra: ABS; 2014 [Accessed September 2016]; Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4727.0.55.001main+features12012-13

    Social Health Atlases of Australia: Population Health areas – Health risk factors, data; [Accessed March 2019]; Available at: http://phidu.torrens.edu.au/social-health-atlases/data#social-health-atlas-of-australia-population-health-areas

    Policy

    National Health and Medical Research Council. Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, Adolescents and Children in Australia (2013). Canberra: NHMRC; 2015 [Accessed September 2016]; Available at:https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n57

    References

    1.         Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's health 2014. Australia's health series no. 14. Cat. no. AUS 178. Canberra: AIHW; 2014 [Accessed 12 October 2016]; Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129548150.

    2.         World Health Organization. Childhood overweight and obesity. Geneva: WHO; 2016 [Accessed 12 October 2016]; Available at: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood/en/.

    3.         Center for Disease Control. Body Mass Index: Considerations for Practitioners. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health; 2015 [Accessed September 27 2016]; Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/bmiforpactitioners.pdf.

    4.         Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Canberra: ABS; 2015 [Accessed September 27 2016]; Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/PrimaryMainFeatures/4364.0.55.001?OpenDocument.

    5.         Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4727.0.55.006 - Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Updated Results, 2012–13. Canberra: ABS; 2014 [Accessed September 27 2016]; Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4727.0.55.006main+features12012-13.

    6.         4324.0.55.001 - Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014-15 [database on the Internet]. ABS. 2016 [Accessed 27 September 2016].

    7.         Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4805.0 - National Nutrition Survey: Nutrient Intakes and Physical Measurements, Australia, 1995. Canberra: ABS; 1998 [Accessed September 27 2016]; Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4805.0Main+Features11995?OpenDocument.

    8.         Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4362.0 - National Health Survey: Summary of Results, 2007-2008 (Reissue) Canberra: ABS; 2009 [Accessed September 02 2016]; Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4364.0History%20of%20Changes02007-2008%20(Reissue)?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4364.0&issue=2007-2008%20(Reissue)&num=&view=.

    9.         4324.0.55.003 - Microdata: Australian Health Survey, Core Content - Risk Factors and Selected Health Conditions, 2011-12 [database on the Internet]. ABS. 2014 [Accessed 27 September 2016]. Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4324.0.55.003main+features12011-12.

    Summary

    More than 1 million children and young people are overweight or obese

    In 2014-15, 1.2 million Australian children and young people aged 2-17 years were overweight or obese.

    Obesity rates are higher among Indigenous children and young people

    In 2011-13, 10% of Australian Indigenous children and young people (aged 2-14 years) were obese compared to 6% for non-Indigenous children and young people.

    Obesity is more prevalent in areas of lower socioeconomic status

    In 2014-15, 34.7% of children in the lowest socioeconomic areas were overweight or obese, compared to 22.3 % in the highest socioeconomic areas.