Obesity inquiry lacks teeth on ads and labelling

Monday 1 June, 2009

Peak health groups have warned that the recommendations by the parliamentary inquiry into obesity released yesterday have given the junk food industry a free pass and are out of step with public demands.

Senior policy adviser for the Obesity Policy Coalition, Jane Martin said while the government inquiry had made many excellent recommendations, it had bowed to pressure from the processed food industry and taken a soft approach to two of the key drivers of obesity - inappropriate and excessive marketing of unhealthy foods, and lack of clear front of packet labelling.

"If any inroads are to be made in the area of obesity, government needs to start making some tough policy decisions and stop sitting on its hands. This is a feather duster approach to prevention - touching several things lightly but not disturbing the status quo and the real drivers of obesity." 

"We have had self-regulation for decades while Australians' waistlines continue to expand. Our children should be protected from the unfettered bombardment of junk food advertising in their everyday life."

"Surveys show the vast majority of Australians recognise that junk food advertising is a driver of obesity and want the government to intervene," said Ms Martin.

"These are very popular measures, but not with the processed food and advertising industries - as they will impact on their bottom line."

"We know from public health successes in the areas of tobacco control and road safety that a strategy to address overweight and obesity will require a comprehensive portfolio of interventions - including policies and regulations that will dampen demand for unhealthy food."

"While we welcome the recommendation to create a set of food labelling guidelines, these must act to guide people to healthier choices. The government cannot afford to delay action in this area any longer. The Inquiry is proposing to spend significant amounts on the end results of obesity such as gastric banding surgery; however, its recommendations on the prevention side - where a greater impact can be made - are seen as less urgent. This is a mindset that will need to change if Australia's workforce is to remain healthy and productive."

"The obesity epidemic will only continue to grow. In under 20 years, based on current trends nearly 7 million Australians will be obese, lap band surgery is not the solution.  This epidemic will continue to put increasing strain right through the health system unless we start to take preventive action now," said Ms Martin.

About the Obesity Policy Coalition

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, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.