Australia's obesity epidemic is reaching crisis point and the number of overweight children will rise to 60 per cent within 30 years unless the Government invests billions, according to a health expert.
Kevin Norton, professor of exercise science at Sport Knowledge Australia, accused state and federal governments of failing to stem rising obesity rates, which could cripple the national health system.
In the first study to look at the weight of Australian children over the last century, researchers found that obesity rates jumped from 4 per cent in 1901 to more than 30 per cent in 2003.
The study found that in 30 years' time the number of overweight or obese children will double, matching the current rate of adult obesity.
Professor Norton likened the seriousness of the problem to that of climate change and said failure to act now could have devastating consequences.
"We are going to need new money — in the same way we've done with the climate change issue — for interventions to tackle the problem," he said. "If we're going to have an impact we'll need hundreds of millions, if not billions … because we're running out of money and the health-care costs can't continue."
The report, published in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, took in data from 41 studies since 1901 that weighed 500,000 Australian children aged five to 15.
The figures reveal a low, steady rate of obesity until the 1970s when the rate increased.
Professor Norton said the spike coincided with a decline in physical education in schools, and called for compulsory classes from year 1 to year 12.
"It's got to be put in the same bracket as maths and English and reading and writing skills. If we do national testing for that surely we should educate our kids about their health through physical activity and nutrition programs in schools," he said.
"Last year's estimates of direct financial costs placed the obesity epidemic throughout Australia at somewhere around $3.5 billion."
The Age revealed last year that Australia has the fastest growing rate of childhood obesity in the world.
Professor Norton described recent Government prevention measures — such as a ban on soft drinks in Victorian state schools — as little more than "tinkering".
Professor Norton said policies such as adding half a cent per litre to the price of petrol could generate enough money to put one physical education teacher into every school in Australia for a year.