Hospital bed bonanza won't help when 1/3 of population is obese

Thursday 12 August, 2010

5.6 million Australians obese by 2015

A lack of focus on prevention in both major parties' health policies means hospitals will struggle to keep pace with the obesity epidemic, according to Jane Martin, Senior Policy Adviser for the Obesity Policy Coalition.

"If we don't begin to tackle the obesity crisis there will not be enough beds, nor will they be big enough, for the 5.6 million people who will be obese in four years time.

"Both Labor and the Coalition are focusing on managing illnesses created by obesity rather than preventing conditions occurring in the first place; in effect they are putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff, instead of building a fence at the top.

"Weight gain, unhealthy eating and inactivity are driving increases in Type 2 diabetes which is set to become Australia's biggest preventable health burden. It will overtake tobacco smoking as the leading cause of disease, yet none of the major parties except for the Greens have yet to put forward any policies around junk food marketing, food pricing and labelling.

"There is strong evidence that junk food advertising influences what children eat, what they want to eat and what they pester their parents for. Pricing and labelling are also promising policies.

"Many of these issues were covered by the recommendations in the National Preventative Health Taskforce; however, as yet they have not been acted on. The focus of both parties has continued to be on the treatment side.

"Both major parties are still dealing with obesity as an problem for the individual rather than a public health issue. It's not just about people changing their behaviour, it's about changing the underlying environment to make healthy choices, the easy choices," she said.

The OPC would like to see both major parties commit to:

  • Stronger regulation around junk food marketing to children
  • Reform of food pricing including taxes on junk food to subsidise healthier foods.
  • Improved food labelling including traffic light labelling.

"There is strong public support for greater regulation of junk food marketing, better food labelling and pricing reforms, yet no major party has so far taken the initiative to make preventing obesity an election priority," Ms Martin said.

Updated: 12 Aug, 2010