Political Parties Urged to Halt Growing Obesity Crisis in Australia

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 18 2007 2:27 PM

The AMA today challenged the Coalition and Labor to act to halt the growing obesity crisis in Australia, which is costing the health system billions of dollars every year.

In 2005 Access economics estimated that the total economic cost of obesity was $3.76 billion – this includes productivity costs, health systems costs, and carer costs.

The recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Health at a Glance 2007, revealed that Australia now has the fifth highest rate of adult obesity among OECD countries.

“Obesity is a serious public health problem – 21.7 per cent of adult Australians are obese and we are seeing an increasing number of overweight children,” AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, said.

“Australia now faces a population that is at risk of the many health problems linked to obesity including diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and reproductive disorders.

“An obese population puts incredible pressure on our health system.”

Dr Capolingua said that individuals cannot make informed and appropriate choices as long as we have a culture that makes unhealthy food choices and physical inactivity the easy options.

“The health risks of obesity are completely preventable, but the Government must provide leadership by raising awareness of the issues and providing the support that people need to stay healthy.

“So far, neither major party has made any significant commitment to introduce meaningful initiatives to tackle the obesity crisis.

“There is no one quick fix – we need a range of public education programs and policy changes to help people from all age groups take control of their health and their lifestyle.”

The AMA is calling for Government support for public education programs and physical activities, a ban on junk food advertising to children, clear informative labelling of food products, and a subsidy to allow people in remote parts of Australia to afford healthy food options.

Labor has promised $1.7 million for community initiatives to tackle obesity, $3.5 million to develop and distribute guidelines on healthy eating and physical activity in early childhood settings, and support for a national nutrition and physical activity survey.

Opposition Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, suggested earlier this year that Labor would ban the use of cartoon and TV characters in promoting junk food but this was not made policy.

The Coalition has provided $3 million in funding for information resources on healthy eating and activities to be mailed out to all school children.

The AMA’s specific recommendations to combat the obesity crisis are:

· an immediate ban on junk food advertising to children in children’s television time,
· government to actively support public health programs that inform, educate and support people around evidence-based good nutrition and exercise, including the role of personal responsibility, especially programs that focus on the problem from early childhood learning,
· government to facilitate the participation of all segments of society in formal and informal physical activity,
· a National Nutrition and Obesity Centre should be created as a focus for research and information. The Centre should also be responsible for the development and monitoring of a National Strategy to combat obesity,
· a regular national nutrition and physical activity survey must include a representative sample of the total Australian population. This will allow monitoring of the progress of the epidemic, including the success of any interventions,
· protection of children from the ‘aggressive’ advertising and marketing techniques that sustain the pressure to adopt unhealthy patterns of consumption and activity (and undermines education provided by GPs, teachers and parents),
· immediate mandatory labelling of ‘added’ trans fats content in packaged foods, so that consumers can make an informed choice about their trans fats consumption. This should be followed by a concerted effort (from Government and the food industry) to remove ‘added’ trans fats from all packaged foods consumed in Australia,
· government to seek a commitment from the food and retail industry to develop new ways to present and market healthy, low processed, nutritious foods, and
· government to subsidise the cost of basic nutritious foods in those parts of Australia where costs are consistently above the national average.

The AMA’s position on nutrition and obesity is part of the document, Key Health Issues for the 2007 Federal Election.