Governments must lead Australians in creating a healthy future

December 19, 2017 By News

Government-funded initiatives that include widening hospital doors to accommodate obese patients highlight the gaping hole in current strategies employed to tackle our obesity crisis.

We have greater access than ever before to information about good nutrition and healthy food, and we revel in our reputation as a sporting nation, yet the Australian Bureau Of Statistics tells us that almost 65 per cent of Australians are overweight or obese.

We’re diligently managing the symptoms without effectively tackling the cause, which will only ensure the symptoms become more widespread. Indeed, we should ensure our medical facilities and health workers are equipped to safely deal with people with obesity, but I worry that in our enthusiasm to manage the impacts of the obesity crisis, we’ve failed to invest in long-term strategies that will ensure Australians are equipped to lead the healthiest lives possible.

I’m not trying to pass the buck on personal accountability. I believe each of us needs to take responsibility for what we (and our kids) eat and how much we move. However, I firmly believe the Australian Government needs to do more and I’m not alone.

In 2016, the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) presented the World Health Authority (WHO) its report on alarming levels of global childhood obesity, saying, “increased political commitment is needed to tackle the global challenge of childhood overweight and obesity.”

The Good Foundation (the exclusive Australian licensee for Jamie’s Ministry of Food, the cooking skills and education program developed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver) and many other organisations work tirelessly to educate people about the importance of eating well and keeping active, but without a commitment from the government to implement these programs more widely, we can only go so far. Isn’t it time our elected officials stepped in to fill the gap?

A major deterrent for governments to invest in these strategies is the four-year budget cycle. There is little appetite from governments to invest in programs that likely won’t deliver tangible benefits before the next election. This isn’t good enough. ECHO’s recommendations of taxes on high-sugar foods and restrictions on marketing unhealthy foods are important, but they’re also complex and will take significant time to be introduced. Much easier to implement are the recommendations calling for minimum standards for school meals, eliminating the sale of unhealthy foods and drinks in schools, and implementing compulsory health and nutrition education.

If we’re the lucky country, why can’t we be the healthy country too?

Andrew Muir is the founder and director of The Good Foundation.

This article appeared in Good Food in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.


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