Tackling Obesity: Aussies want change

New research has revealed that 79% of Australians polled believe if we don’t do more to lower the intake of fatty sugary and salty foods/drinks, our children will live shorter lives than their parents. 85% of people polled said unhealthy eating habits are now a major problem for Australian children.

The 2014 poll by Essential Research of over 1016 people also shows nearly two thirds of respondents (64%) say the food industry seems to have more say than the Government over the regulation of food, and 77% support making it compulsory for ALL packaged foods to have a health star rating (just 9% oppose the idea).

50% of people polled approve of the Government putting a tax on junk food/sugary drinks (like the taxes on alcohol and tobacco).  There is strong support in all aged categories for the idea (52% of 18 to 34 year olds approved, 49% of 35 to 54 year olds approved and 48% of people 55 plus approved).

In the wake of the Essential Research nationwide poll, 4 major groups have joined together to urge the Federal Government to take decisive and firm action to stop the never-ending promotion of unhealthy food.

The Consumers Health Forum, the Heart Foundation, the Obesity Policy Coalition and the Public Health Association of Australia say action is now critically needed.

The health groups are calling on the new Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley and the Government to take decisive action to end the widespread marketing of junk food and drink to children after a new poll reveals widespread unease about unhealthy diets.

The groups called on Minister Ley to work with Assistant Health Minister, Fiona Nash, to develop a comprehensive national obesity prevention strategy, including:

  • Moving as quickly as possible to make the new health food stars rating system compulsory for packaged food products, a measure supported by more than three quarters of people polled.
  • Opposing the marketing of junk food to children on social media and outlawing advertising of these products during TV programs popular with children, including sports broadcasts
  •  Exploring a tax on sugar sweetened beverages
  • Renewing and strengthening the national food reformulation program to reduce excessive sugar, fat and salts in processed food

“It is disturbing that nearly two thirds of Australians say the food industry seems to have more say than the Government over the regulation of food,” the four organisations said.

“The evidence is damning. On unhealthy food promotion, profits have been put before people.

“Despite at least six reports from taskforces, obesity summits and research papers in the past 20 years advocating firm measures to stop marketing junk food to children, the advertising of fat, sugar and salt-drenched products continues largely unrestricted.

“More than half of Australians polled rejected the suggestion that regulating junk food advertising to children on TV and social media would be “nanny state” over reaction

“The routine association of companies like Coca Cola, KFC and McDonalds with sport has nurtured a lethal culture of routine consumption of these products, predisposing millions of Australians to a life of chronic ill-health, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in marked contrast to their sporting heroes.

“Half of Australians reject junk food and sugary drink companies sponsoring sport.

“Governments and industry have tended to offset the pressure for action on unhealthy food by focusing on measures to lift low levels of physical activity. Exercise is vital but by itself will not solve our obesity problem.

“For instance, it takes a 10-year-old about 60 minutes of running to burn off the kilojoules in a 60g Kit Kat Chunky snack bar.  A 45g packet of potato crisps takes an adult woman a 20-minute run to burn off.

 “Making the health star system mandatory for packaged food would be a win-win-win for the Government.  The measure is supported by 77 per cent of Australians.  It would trigger long term population-wide health benefits. It would be at virtually no cost to the taxpayer.

“We acknowledge the work of Minister Nash in rolling out the health food stars.  Now it is time for the Government to step up the concerted action needed to safeguard the health of our children for the future,” the four organisations said.

The new Essential Research at a glance. 

  • 50% of people polled approve of the Government putting a tax on junk food/sugary drinks (like the taxes on alcohol and tobacco).  There is strong support in all aged categories for the idea (52% of 18 to 34 year olds approved, 49% of 35 to 54 year olds approved and 48% of people 55 plus approved).

A substantial majority agreed with the statements:

  • If we don’t do more to lower intake of fatty sugary and salty foods and drinks, our children will live shorter lives than their parents (79%).  12% disagreed.
  • The food industry seems to have more say than the Government over the regulation of food (64%).
  • The Government should take more action to discourage unhealthy diets - particularly amongst children (64%)
  • Unhealthy eating habits are a major problem for Australian children (85%).  Just 10% disagreed.
  • 50% of people polled disagreed with the idea that it is ok for junk food/sugary drink companies to sponsor sport.
  • 52% disagreed with the idea that regulating advertising of junk food to children on TV/social media would be an unnecessary over-reaction of a ‘nanny state’.
  • 77% support making it compulsory for ALL packaged foods to have a health star rating.   Just 9% opposed the idea.

The survey of 1,016 respondents was conducted by Essential Research online throughout Australia on December 12 to 15, 2014.

The slow path to healthier food labels

1995 ABS National Nutrition Survey. Shows dramatic rise in obesity

1997 National Health and Medical Research Council report Acting on Australia’s Weight. Main recommendations not implemented)

2002 Obesity summits in NSW and Victoria, urge action including on food marketing to children

2003 National Obesity Taskforce. Government implemented expensive “active schools” policy NOT recommended by Taskforce.

2005 onwards Victoria established several whole-of-community projects which showed child obesity could be reversed

2008 Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into obesity supports more active measures to counter obesity

2009 National Preventative Health Taskforce recommends comprehensive strategies to curb unhealthy food marketing to children which are ignored in favour of ‘softer’ education and health promotion sops.

2011 Government-appointed Blewett  committee report into food labelling favours “a traffic light” label system to guide healthy food choices.  Food industry strongly resists.

2011 Food health stars: As a compromise, Australia’s health ministers agree to develop a front of pack food labelling system that may use stars rather than traffic lights.

Late 2013 Voluntary star rating system endorsed by health ministers

Early 2014 Health Department launches website to explain the new system to consumers. Hours later the website is taken down on orders of a ministerial chief of staff who had previously been a lobbyist for the food industry.

December 2014  Assistant Health Minister, Senator Fiona Nash, launches the voluntary star rating labels. Under the system, products are scored between half a star and five stars according to their energy, fat, sugar and salt content.

Energy to burn: the exercise it takes to burn off a snack

Food

Serve

Kilojoules / serve

kJ/ 100g

Female Activity[1] per serve

Male Activity[2] per serve

10 year old per serve

Kit Kat Chunky

60g

1320 kJ

2190

29 mins running

38 mins cycling

33 mins swimming

25 mins running

34 mins cycling

29 mins swimming

1 hr running

1 hr cycling

1 hr swimming

Potato Crisps

45g

941

2092

20 mins running

27 mins cycling

23 mins swimming

18 mins running

24 mins cycling

20 mins swimming

43 mins running

57 mins cycling

49 mins swimming

Values used for calculations:

  • Average man: 1.76m and 86kg (BMI = 27.7kg/m2, overweight)[3]
  • Average woman: 1.62m and 71kg (BMI = 27kg/m2, overweight)
  • Average 10 year old from 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey[4]: mean height 150cm, 44.7 kg, ages 9-13
  • Values calculated for average man and woman are calculated for a 35 year old.
  • Nutrient Values from NUTTAB 2010[5]

Assumptions of the 8700kJ[6] energy calculation model:

  • Burn rates (metabolic equivalents or METs) for physical activity are taken from Ainsworth, Haskell & Whitt, et al, (2000), Compendium of physical activities: an update, and corrected for individual resting metabolic rates (RMR) after a method by Byrne NM et al and using Harris-Benedict predictions of RMR.
  • Non-personalised energy burn rates are calculated undertaking light activity (walking), medium activity (bicycling for pleasure) and vigorous activity (bicycling vigorously).

Do you think the Government should be doing more to stop the promotion of unhealthy food? Have a say at http://ourhealth.org.au/have-a-say/have-your-say-now/preventative-health

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[1] http://www.8700.com.au/balance-and-burn/kj-activity-comparison/

[2] http://www.8700.com.au/balance-and-burn/kj-activity-comparison/

[3] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/E11CED5FB86D178ACA257AA30014C059?opendocument

[4]http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/8F4516D5FAC0700ACA257BF0001E0109/$File/childrens-nut-phys-survey.pdf

[5] http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/Pages/default.aspx

[6] http://www.8700.com.au/balance-and-burn/how-to-burn-your-kjs/