Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Pacific School Games; Health: Obesity and Diabetes

7:38 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a big week for Canberra, the host of the 2008 Pacific School Games, from 30 November to 6 December. Sunday’s spectacular welcome event featured a choreographed display and music by more than 1,600 ACT school students. Almost 5,000 school age competitors aged from 10 to 18 years are competing, and these are our coming sports champions. They come from each Australian state and territory and from 19 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. They are competing in five sports—basketball, diving, hockey, swimming and athletics—or track and field, and all sports have international competitors. Students with a disability are competing in basketball, swimming and track and field. As well as the competitors, approximately 10,000 supporters are descending on Canberra, with parents, friends, officials and coaches all here for the event.

The organisation for this event has been carried out over a long, two-year period by a team of dedicated workers, including the general manager, Ron Burns. The manager and organiser of the 2,000 volunteers is Trish Thomas, who has had a long and impressive involvement with sport and is a life member of School Sport Australia, the ACT Secondary Schools Sports Association and the ACT Veterans Athletic Club. The Volunteer Ambassador for the 2008 Pacific School Games is Margaret Reid, former President of this place, as we would all know, from 1996 to 2002. She was the patron of School Sport ACT from the 1980s through to 2002.

Young sporting ambassadors have been appointed and have been visiting schools and clubs, promoting the games. Some of them, like Lauren Jackson and Patrick Mills of basketball fame, remember participating in their school years in the Pacific School Games and school championships, and they are promoting the message: ‘Do your best and have fun.’

Hosting the Pacific School Games may be one way in which Canberra is contributing to the government’s focus on encouraging fitness, exercise and healthy living. Largely through preventative health strategies and promoting health, we, the federal Labor government, are seeking to tackle what has been described as our ‘growing obesity epidemic’. This year, the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, established the National Preventative Health Taskforce, chaired by Professor Rob Moodie. The task force’s discussion paper released in October highlights our government’s aim through its title, Australia: the healthiest country by 2020.

Some of the programs we are introducing to tackle the problem of childhood obesity in particular and to encourage healthy lifestyles more generally include health checks for four-year-olds, through the Healthy Kids Check; providing parents with advice on healthy lifestyles for children, through the Get Set 4 Life Habits for healthy kids guide; and grants of up to $60,000 for up to 190 primary schools for the construction of vegetable gardens and kitchen facilities to allow children to learn about and appreciate the benefits of growing and eating fresh food. This is the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, quite an inspiring and unique program that is, through the federal government’s support, spreading a very positive message about healthy eating around the country. The government have also provided $17.6 million to enable 190 schools and community organisations to run local programs encouraging healthy and active lifestyles. We also have the Active After-school Communities program, promoting after-school physical activity. Finally, there are the early childhood guidelines for healthy eating and physical activity.

It was back in April 2008 that federal, state and territory health ministers agreed that, in recognition of the clear linkages between excess weight and the increased risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases, obesity should become a national health priority, as is diabetes. We know that obesity is a risk factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. We were reminded recently, on World Diabetes Day on 14 November, that the number of Australians diagnosed with diabetes more than doubled between 1989-90 and 2004-05. Diabetes is a significant cause of death and disability in Australia. An estimated one million Australians over 25 years of age have diabetes, and in 2005 it was the cause of death of 3,500 Australians. Direct healthcare expenditure on diabetes in 2004-05 was $907 million.

Diabetes is, as I said, a national health priority area, and a National Diabetes Strategy has been developed by federal, state and territory governments to coordinate programs for the prevention, early detection and management of diabetes. Diabetes is characterised by a lack of insulin. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable, but type 2 results from a combination of genetic and environmental or lifestyle factors. The risk of type 2 diabetes is greatly increased with high blood pressure, with being overweight or obese and with little physical activity and poor diet.

A diabetes prevention pilot project, assessed in 2006, found good evidence of the health benefits for people at risk of developing diabetes of increased physical activity, improved diet and achieving a healthy weight. The National Diabetes Strategy aims to improve the health of Australians with, or at risk of, diabetes. Knowing that type 2 diabetes is partly or largely preventable is our incentive to reduce its huge human and economic costs.

In the ACT, there are 10,000 people with type 2 diabetes who have registered with the National Diabetes Services Scheme, or the NDSS, compared with 1,829 people with type 1 diabetes. I should note that not all people with diabetes are registered with the NDSS. Many of those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have been diagnosed as children. Last month, the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, announced that the federal Labor government will provide a subsidy to help with the cost of insulin pumps for up to 700 type-1-diagnosed Australians.

For both forms of diabetes, regular physical activity is beneficial in improving blood sugar control, increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing associated cardiovascular risk factors. For type 2, physical activity has a primary prevention role as well. Participation and achievement in sport has proved important in providing a positive focus and role for young people who might otherwise feel that they are defined by the fact that they have diabetes.

Rod Kafer, former Brumbies and international rugby union player, said:

… when my doctor told me I needed to be active and fit, and sport was a good way of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels … I decided to become the best rugby player I could. My diagnosis was the catalyst for me ultimately playing for the Wallabies.

…            …            …

Dealing with diabetes is a challenge in life which can be faced any number of ways. I had an outlet that allowed me to turn that challenge from a negative one to a positive outcome …

Other sport achievers in the ACT who also have type 1 diabetes include: Warrick Harrington, age 21, who currently holds three Australian Super Welterweight Kickboxing and Thai Boxing titles and who is aiming for international competition next year; Willoughby Axelsen, age 14, who is captain of the ACT Under 14 Rugby Union team, which won the New South Wales State Championships this year; Kelly Arundel, age 15, who represents the ACT in the wonderful sport of hockey; and Fabio Calabria, age 21, who is a professional road-racing cyclist. Races can vary from 100 to 250 kilometres and extend over five to nine days—such is the magnitude of Fabio’s personal achievement.

These young people from my home town, the ACT, along with the Pacific School Games ambassadors, are all wonderful role models in our ongoing promotion of the benefits of sport and physical fitness—not just to our local community but to the rest of Australia.