ONE in two children from Australia’s poorest homes are consuming sweet drinks before their first birthday, bucking nutritional guidelines, a new study has shown.
Children from poorer homes were also more likely to consume sugary drinks and discretionary hot foods, like sausage rolls and hot chips, than wealthier peers, according to Deakin University research released this week calling for greater government intervention.
City of Ballarat has healthy eating, including drinks, a priority in planning and programs in a bid to help curb a well-documented obesity crisis across all ages in the region.
When it comes to babies and toddlers, City of Ballarat community development director Neville Ivey said the maternal child and health service worked closely with parents to support informed health choices for their family, including healthy eating strategies for toddlers and pre-school aged children.
Maternal child and health workers also promoted Australian Dietary Guidelines, including those for infant feeding which specify sugary drinks like fruit juice could be harmful in nutrient absorption and damaging emerging teeth.
"Council and local health partners are aware of the increasing obesity rates in children and the connection to increased sugary drink consumption,” Mr Ivey said.
“Council has now prioritised healthy eating...supporting and initiating projects which increase access to and promote consumption of healthy foods and drinks.”
First-time parent groups across the city have access to a session with a dietitian to talk through diet and label reading. Dietary programs are also in place at Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre in partnership with Ballarat Community Health.
City health programs also include: more water fountains in public places; supporting community initiatives which educate residents on growing healthy foods, like the seasonal vegetable and herb garden in the Victoria Park play space; and, supporting schools to join the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program.
Ballarat has long been weighed down as one of the heaviest regions in the nation and, according to a 2016 Dental Health Services Victoria study, the state’s west has worse than average rates of untreated tooth decay for all age groups, except those aged under five years old.
Deakin University health expert Kathryn Backholer said tackling diet health issues was critical right from the start because taste preferences were established in early childhood. The report showed parents wanted more formal support in dietary education and a cut down on sweet drinks in places, like supermarkets, they regularly visited with children.