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Our Youth’s Waistlines are Expanding - what does this say about Us?

October 18, 2018

Living in Western Australia, there is much to see and do if you are willing to be just a little adventurous. My family and I recently took a trip in a campervan down south. We stopped for a night at Margaret River, Pemberton and then arrived for a four day stay in Denmark, a place I had not visited before but was more than pleasantly surprised. 


Denmark has a beautiful combination of breath-taking green rolling hills, forest and beach scenery. As you can imagine, we made the most of this and enjoyed some terrific walks while taking in some amazing sights. 


On one of our early morning walks, my husband and I spotted a plaque with a photo from 1920 on it. The photo was of about 60 children in their bathing suits, standing next to the river where they had their swimming lessons. Immediately when I saw this photo, my mind went to the range of school photos I have seen over the past 18 years of teaching - and I simply said to my husband, ‘Wow not one of these kids in this photo is remotely overweight’. Every child was lean, compared to that of today where it is not uncommon to see about a third of younger bodies carrying too much weight. In the Australian Governments, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s document entitled, ‘A Picture of Overweight and Obesity in Australia, 2017’, it states that:


‘About 1 in 4 (27%) children and adolescents aged 5–17 were overweight or obese—20% were overweight but not obese, and 7% were obese.’ (1)




‘In 2014–15, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Australian adults were overweight or obese.’(1)


When I consider what I saw in the 1920’s photo, what I have observed over the years and the above statistics, I wonder how we can go from one moment in time to another, with the images of our youth being so drastically different. The above statistics of overweight and obesity in both our youth and adults are quite shocking. An increase from 27% in our youth to 63% in our adults being overweight or obese is quite a significant health problem.


As my husband and I looked at the 1920’s photo, we also noticed that the children in it seemed at ease with themselves, they were all looking at the camera and smiling. There was no seeking of identification or recognition, they were not image driven and there was no show being put on. Whereas today, it can be quite a different story with some of our young being either too shy, anxious or carrying self-worth issues to be photographed to acting over-the-top, seeking to be seen and recognised by over doing it, posing or sexualising themselves.


Now as human beings, it is commonly thought that we are quite intelligent. However, when I look at our youth today compared to the past, I see a regression in their mental and physical health, their confidence and knowing their purpose. Today, we may have many more gadgets, more technology, bigger buildings and so on . . . but what does this matter when it is clear that many of our youth are not coping with life? It makes no sense.


It is clear that the area that we should be investing our time and efforts into, is our youth, supporting them to: 

  • feel connected to

  • feel valued and know who they are

  • know how to truly care for themselves and others,

  • have a sense and appreciation for their purpose in life.

This photo got me thinking about the unsupportive patterns we have managed to fall into as a society and the harmful choices our life style is reflecting in our young today. If someone from that 1920’s photo was walking around today, they may ask, ‘why do people look so sick and unhappy?’. It makes me ponder on what our children’s children will be facing if we, as a society, so continue living in this way and accepting such drastic statistics as normal . . . 


We may not consider those in the 1920’s to be as advanced as we are today, however, the photos show that they were living with more health, connection, settlement and contentment. Perhaps a wisdom and simplicity that we each need to go back to living before moving forward.




By Johanna Smith, Bachelor of Education (Major Special Needs, Minor Psychology), Graduate Certificate of Early Childhood, Diploma of Counseling, Esoteric Complementary Health Practitioner, Woman, Teacher, Mother, Wife and Friend



1. https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/172fba28-785e-4a08-ab37-2da3bbae40b8/aihw-phe-216.pdf.aspx?inline=true




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