Prevention of childhood obesity

Monday, 01 May, 2006

Two of the leading health peak bodies, Diabetes Australia and The Cancer Council, in Victoria have called for the Victorian Government to strengthen its commitment to both regulation and community education to help fight the alarming childhood obesity trends.

Obesity levels amongst Australian children are rising rapidly, putting them at an increased risk of serious medical conditions including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

In 1985 approximately 10 % of Australian children were overweight or obese; this figure has risen to approximately 30 % in 2005. Experts estimate that by 2025 nearly half of all children will be overweight or obese.

"Banning and regulation is not the entire solution" said Chief Executive of Diabetes Australia, Vic Greg Johnson, "but it is an important element of a broad and integrated approach to fighting the obesity problem. Junk food advertising and marketing practices also need regulation. Victoria and Australia are not alone in this; 17 countries across Europe have introduced various regulation and controls over the past few years as government accept that they have a responsibility to act."

Johnson also called for the Australian Government to act on the problem of high levels of junk food advertising to children. "They should accept that soft options like industry codes of practice are not working. Australia has some of the highest levels in the world of TV junk food advertising to children, and then wonders how this obesity issue crept up on us. How and why did that become acceptable?"

Changing community expectations and behaviour is also critical according The Cancer Council Victoria's Director, Professor David Hill.

"We know that real changes in behaviour are achieved by regulation, education and environmental change. In Victoria, we've learned from past experiences in areas such as tobacco control. Why isn't the obesity epidemic worthy of the same concerted effort?" Hill said.

"Surely if tobacco companies and the gambling industry can be legislated, so can manufacturers who create energy dense, nutrient poor foods, and who target children in their advertising and promotions. We learned enough about the smoke and mirrors approach with tobacco and shouldn't put up with it from these industries now."

"If our sporting bodies have learned to live and prosper without cigarette advertising, our kids and schools can live and prosper without income from sale of soft drinks and junk food," he said.

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