Bureaucrats hamper research into childhood obesity

CRITICAL research into Queensland's childhood obesity rates is being threatened as researchers warn bureaucrats are hampering their efforts to study the emerging health crisis in public schools.

The Department of Education has defended its gatekeeper role, saying applications from researchers were "approved or denied on a case-by-case basis".

News of the refusals come as concern is growing about the level of childhood obesity both nationally and across the state.

Researchers have asked not to have their names or institutions named out of fear it could jeopardise future studies requiring access to public schools.

In the most recent Health of Queenslanders report from the state government, childhood obesity was described as "one of the most serious public health issues of the 21st century".

According to the October 2012 report, "It puts the child at higher risk of adult obesity and chronic disease".

Regional Queensland researchers have told APN the hurdles put in place by the state government were not installed in other states, potentially leaving "blind spots" in studies of obesity.

Researchers said this could lead to poorly-informed obesity intervention programs because there is not enough data to inform the studies.

Access to public students for obesity research in New South Wales and Victoria has been more readily available, one researcher said, meaning those states could have better tactics for dealing with the obesity epidemic.

Before universities can work with public school students, researchers must first obtain permission from the institution's internal ethics committee, then Queensland Health if the studies are health related.

From there, they must apply to the Department of Education which - if approved - gives the academics a chance to ask for a further permission from a specific school's principal.

Department of Education Acting Deputy Director-General Nick Seeley said principals were under no obligation for their school to participate.

If they wanted to "open up the school" for researchers, the parent of every child involved would have to give consent.

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