A group of teenagers has condemned the proliferation of TV advertising, video games and sedentary lifestyles, naming obesity as the biggest threat to the health of future generations.
Francesca Dudas from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Grammar School – named today as the first national Research Australia Youth Ambassador for Health and Medical Research – and state winners from across Australia, said urgent action needs to be taken to head off a growing crisis in the health of young Australians.
“The massive increase in child weight gain is primarily due to our more sedentary lifestyle,” Ms Dudas said.
“Whether children sit in front of the television – where they are exposed to countless junk food ads – or a computer, the physically active time in their life is quashed significantly. It is vital that we give each child a decent chance in life by teaching them to watch their diet and by promoting an interest in activities that will reduce the number of hours spent sitting in front of a screen,” she said.
The teenagers, selected as Research Australia Ambassadors for their insights into the health challenges facing our youth, are calling for a greater commitment from the current generation to invest in the future of the next.
They implored government to consider a range of measures to address the obesity epidemic such as awareness campaigns including advertising “scare” campaigns, more school health education and the banning of junk food commercials.
“Education is the key, at a national and individual level,” Francesca Dudas said. “We need to get back to basics and educate children and parents on how to prepare healthy meals.”
The group believes a clearer understanding needs to be gained about the causes of obesity so the problem can be addressed effectively.
Research Australia CEO Rebecca James said the ambassadors called for researchers, scientists and politicians to invest in young people, keeping a step ahead of emerging health challenges. They urged them to take immediate action to help youth maintain a positive attitude to healthy living and to prevent problems from occurring.
“The Research Australia Youth Ambassadors have developed clear and compelling questions that can guide the development of research priorities specifically targeting young people,” Ms James said.
“They are also telling us the importance of including adolescents in the development of any community awareness programs aimed at addressing obesity.”
The ambassadors endorsed programs such as “Headspace”, beyondblue, social engagement and school based programs to help and educate young people with concerns about lifestyle issues, anxiety and mental illness.
The Youth Ambassadors’ views will be conveyed to State and Federal Health Ministers and youth organisations around Australia, as part of a broader program to raise awareness of the importance of health and medical research to finding solutions to current health challenges.
More than 60 Australian schools participated in Research Australia’s National 2008 Youth Ambassador Program for Year 9 and 10 students. The program gives Australian teenagers the opportunity to express their views on issues related to health and medical research. Students were invited to write an essay on the health challenges facing young people today and what they predict will be the threats to the health of young people in 2020.
The state Youth Ambassador winners are:
Victoria – Madeleine Barrow (Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School, Melbourne) who believes that as obesity becomes more socially acceptable, teenagers find it easier to adopt an unhealthy lifestyle. “As the number of obese individuals increases, so will the tolerance of the issue,” Madeleine said.
NSW – Sonya Marshall (James Ruse Agricultural High School, Carlingford) who said the youth of today are suffering from the excesses of their generation. “Thirty years ago, the word ‘obesity’ sat in the back of everyone’s minds, not on their large, protruding stomachs,” Sonya said.
Tasmania – Madeline Stokes (St Mary’s College, Hobart) who attributes obesity to “lifestyle changes that have enabled young people to consciously choose to stay inside and do things such as lazing around and eating, instead of being outside and actively engaged in physical activity”.
South Australia – Miranda Van Heuven (Seymour College, Glen Osmond) said: “Mental health symptoms such as depression, substance abuse and suicide are more common in today’s youth than the previous generation due to changes in technology, society and media focus.”
Western Australia – Alasdair Penman (Murdoch College, Perth) identified the link between depression and obesity. “If depression is reduced, then obesity rates may also be reduced.”
ACT – Julian Olsen (Marist College, Canberra) took a global perspective. “The biggest health threat to young people in 2020 will be political inaction and hesitation,” he said.