5 April 2019.

Overweight and obesity in children have developed into a major public health issue in recent decades. The latest edition of the Sax Institute’s flagship journal Public Health Research & Practice (PHRP) explores a range of topics on this theme, from obesity prevention policies and support services for children affected by overweight and obesity to the effect of health-related labelling in supermarkets and the use of growth assessments to identify children at risk.

One article, which has received widespread media attention, looks at how to keep young children physically active in the home environment. Data from nearly 1600 Perth-based preschoolers shows each additional piece of fixed play equipment in the backyard – such as playhouses, sandboxes or trampolines – is associated with 5 extra minutes outdoor playtime per day. Backyard size did not seem to affect playtime duration.

Two papers in this issue take differing views on the Health Star Rating System – the voluntary front-of-pack information panels that attempt to summarise the nutritional value of packaged foods.

One of these articles argues that the system misrepresents nutrition science, contradicts Australian Dietary Guidelines and promotes foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. The other paper takes a different view, claiming that Australians are changing their long-term behaviour and making healthier choices at the supermarket, thanks to the system.

In an editorial, co-Guest Editors Dr Jo Mitchell, Executive Director of the Centre for Population Health at the NSW Ministry of Health, and Professor Louise Baur AM, Head of Child and Adolescent Health at the Sydney Medical School, argue that childhood overweight and obesity is a complex issue exacerbated by our “obesogenic” environment.

Although there is consistent agreement over what policy actions are needed, the guest editors write that Australia’s approach has so far been “fragmented, narrow and underpowered”.

Access the latest issue of our online, open-access journal here.