School reports to be used to tackle childhood obesity?
A child's weight could be included on their school report in a radical plan to tackle the obesity crisis, says the man who led Australia's successful response to the AIDS epidemic.
David Penington also suggests the GST be raised and extended to a broader range of foods to encourage healthy eating.
Professor Penington, a former vice-chancellor of Melbourne University and dean of medicine, told an obesity summit in Canberra this week that the inclusion of weight in primary school reports could spark discussion between teachers and parents about diet and levels of physical activity.
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
''Some obesity does start in early childhood just with very bad eating habits,'' he said. ''It's not that I want the schools to be seen as the body responsible but, nonetheless, use the school environment as a way to contribute to ensuring the broader issues are there for discussion.''
A child and adolescent psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg, said schools could play a role but warned that putting a child's weight on their report could trigger depression and anxiety and lead to bullying.
Christine Morgan, the chief executive of the Butterfly Foundation which works to prevent eating disorders, said weight was not the best measure of health, and reporting it could undermine a child's self-esteem.
Angelo Gavrielatos, the federal president of the Australian Education Union, said schools had a role to play in teaching children about healthy lifestyles but more resources should be directed at supporting parents.
A spokeswoman for the federal Health Department said placing children's weight on reports was not a federal responsibility, and its approach was to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
The federal opposition health spokesman, Peter Dutton, said: ''We support people having the information they need to make choices for themselves and their children. We do not support reporting on a child's weight on their report card.''
The chairman of Obesity Australia, John Funder, said the idea would need to be implemented sensitively.
Professor Penington said the GST could be changed to encourage those from low socio-economic groups to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh food is GST free but the tax applies to hot takeaway foods, ice cream, biscuits, confectionery and soft drinks.