The government and the Australian public should be wary of the Australian Food and Grocery Council's (AFGC) Healthier Australia Commitment, which was launched today, according to the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC).
Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the OPC, said the pledge by major processed food companies to reduce salt, saturated fat and energy in its products is likely to be yet another marketing ploy by the industry unless it is closely monitored and the companies involved are held accountable. The heavy focus of the industry pledges around physical activity and education approaches are clearly part of the diversionary tactics.
"Reformulation of foods is welcome but without independent verification it is just going to be tinkering at the edges. The track record of the food industry making meaningful changes through self-regulatory codes and pledges is very poor indeed. What we need to address are the drivers encouraging Australians to consume too many processed foods - price, promotion, availability and labelling.
"It's very hard to take the AFGC at its word when its members are not willing to take action around the drivers of unhealthy diets. At every turn we have seen the industry flaunt self-regulation of advertising by continuing to target children and actively undermine efforts to create a clear colour coded (traffic light) labelling system on packaging that empowers people to make healthier choices. If they are really serious about improving health, for starters, they could remove their marketing materials from children's sport," she said.
Ms Martin said that recent research by the George Institute had found salt levels in products had actually increased by 9 percent over the past three years despite salt reduction targets being in place.
"It is unlikely these targets will reduce overweight and obesity and chronic disease in our community. What is more alarming is that these claims may be used to imply foods are healthier than they actually are, encouraging people to consume even more of them as a result.
Ms Martin said there was also a major ethical conflict in the junk food industry attempting to takeover ‘health'.
"We do not want the processed food industry being the nutrition educators of Australian children. This is a case of the industry attempting to buy a ‘healthy halo'. It's like taking quitting tips from the tobacco industry. The Government and health sectors are better placed to create healthy eating and physical activity initiatives than industry."
The Obesity Policy Coalition is a group of leading public health agencies who are concerned about the escalating levels of overweight and obesity, particularly in children.
The Obesity Policy Coalition partners include Diabetes Australia Victoria, The Cancer Council Victoria and the World Health Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.