Address obesogenic environment now, say health stakeholders


feet on scales,which say "SOS"

A crackdown on advertising and a 20% tax on sugary drinks are among measures proposed to battle obesity

Thirty-four community, public health, medical and academic groups have teamed up for the first time to call for urgent Federal Government action to address Australia’s obesity problem.

Led by the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) and Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), the groups launched “Tipping the Scales” – a new action plan which outlines eight evidence-based plans of attack.

These include:

  1. Time-based restrictions on TV junk food advertising to kids
  2. Set clear food reformulation targets
  3. Make the Health Star Rating mandatory by July 2019
  4. Develop a national active transport strategy
  5. Fund weight-related public education campaigns
  6. Introduce a 20% health levy on sugary drinks
  7. Establish a national obesity taskforce
  8. Develop and monitor national diet, physical activity and weight guidelines.

OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin says the eight policy actions in Tipping the Scales address the elements of Australia’s environment which set individuals and families up for unhealthy lifestyles, rather than just focusing on treating the poor health outcomes associated with obesity.

“Sixty-three per cent of Australian adults and 27% of our children are overweight or obese,” she says.

“This is not surprising when you look at our environment – our kids are bombarded with advertising for junk food, high-sugar drinks are cheaper than water, and sugar and saturated fat are hiding in so-called ‘healthy’ foods.

“Making a healthy choice has never been more difficult,” Ms Martin says.

“The annual cost of overweight and obesity in Australia in 2011-12 was estimated to be $8.6 billion in direct and indirect costs such as GP services, hospital care, absenteeism and government subsidies. But Australia still has no strategy to tackle our obesity problem. It just doesn’t make sense.

“Without action, the costs of obesity and poor diet to society will only continue to spiral upwards. The policies we have set out to tackle obesity therefore aim to not only reduce morbidity and mortality, but also improve wellbeing, bring vital benefits to the economy and set Australians up for a healthier future.”

Professor of Epidemiology and Equity in Public Health at Deakin University, Anna Peeters, says the 34 groups behind the report refuse to let governments sit back and watch as growing numbers of Australians develop life-threatening weight and diet-related health problems.

“For too long we have been sitting and waiting for obesity to somehow fix itself,” Prof Peeters says.

“In the obesogenic environment in which we live, this is not going to happen. In fact, if current trends continue, there will be approximately 1.75 million deaths in people over the age of 20 years caused by diseases linked to overweight and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer heart disease, between 2011-2050.”

“Obesity poses such an immense threat to Australia’s physical and economic health that it needs its own, standalone prevention strategy if progress is to be made.

“There are policies which have been proven to work in other parts of the world and have the potential to work here, but they need to be implemented as part of a comprehensive approach by governments. And they need to be implemented now.

“More than thirty leading organisations have agreed on eight priorities needed to tackle obesity in Australia. We would like to work with the Federal Government to tackle this urgent issue and integrate these actions as part of a long-term coordinated approach.”

The burden of obesity is felt acutely by individuals and their families, the stakeholders warn.

As a Professor of Women’s Health at Monash University and a physician, Professor Helena Teede sees mothers struggle daily with trying to achieve and sustain healthy lifestyles for themselves and their families, while having to deal with the adverse impact of unhealthy weight, especially during pregnancy.

“As a mother’s weight before pregnancy increases, so does the substantive health risk to both the mother and baby,” Prof Teede says.

“Excess weight gain during pregnancy further adds to these risks and is a key driver of infertility, long-term obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, while for the child, their risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing chronic diseases in later life greatly increases.

“The women I see are generally desperate for help to improve their lifestyle and that of their families. They want to set themselves and their families up for healthy, long lives.

“Currently, there is a lot of blame placed on individuals with unhealthy diets and lifestyles seen as being due to individual and family discipline. Women from all backgrounds and walks of life struggle with little or no support to achieve this.

“It is vital that we as a community progress beyond placing all responsibility on the individual and work towards creating a policy context and a society that supports healthy choices and tips the scales towards obesity prevention to give Australian families a healthy start to life.”

 

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