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OPC backs Brumby's obesity plan but practical measures need addressing

Tuesday 18 March, 2008

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) today applauded the Victorian state government's plan to screen Victoria's 2.6 million workers in a bid to reduce rates of obesity, but called on the Brumby government to also address the drivers of the problem.

The Coalition - comprising The Cancer Council Victoria, Diabetes Australia - Vic, the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre on Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, and VicHealth - has expressed support for the plan as a positive step in reducing lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer but said policy and regulatory reform to address the causes of inactivity and unhealthy eating was also required.

The OPC's senior policy advisor, Jane Martin said it was imperative to establish an environment that supports and facilitates healthy choices in the broader community in order to prevent people putting themselves at risk of obesity-related diseases.

"We will continue to support specific measures to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases as part of a long term, multi-strategy approach," said Ms Martin. "We need to address the external factors that affect individuals' lifestyle and their health choices."

The OPC is calling for a number of targeted measures to influence the factors driving unhealthy eating and sedentary behaviour.

"Workplaces have a role in sustaining healthy lifestyles, such as offering incentives to encourage staff to walk, cycle and use public transport to get to work, rather than driving their cars, providing group fitness programs at lunchtime and after work, as well as flexible work arrangements to enable staff to exercise in their own time.

"Further, workplaces can actively support healthy eating by removing vending machines with junk food and improving the food supplied through canteens and catering."

"At a community level, we would like to see mandatory front-of-pack labelling on packaged foods to highlight levels of salt, sugar, saturated fat and total fat. We're also calling for restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food to children across all forms of
media. Cycling and walking should also be encouraged in communities by establishing infrastructure which will support active transport for both children and adults."

Ms Martin said the onus should not be on the individual alone. "The obesity epidemic is not merely a product of poor individual choices, but is influenced by a person's social, physical and economic environment. Addressing the problem therefore requires a
strong and comprehensive approach from a variety of groups such as workplaces, schools, community organisations, the medical community and the food industry. Ultimately however, federal, state and local governments need to play a leading role."