In Australia, rates of overweight and obesity have risen
dramatically in recent decades in all age groups. The link between obesity and
poor health outcomes is well established. As a result Australia is seeing an
increase in diseases stemming from risk factors associated with obesity. This
includes type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers. The causes of
obesity are myriad and complex, as are the impacts and the potential prevention
and treatment solutions.
The importance of language when describing the problem or
developing programs that attempt to tackle obesity was highlighted throughout
the inquiry. Indeed, a high degree of stigma is associated with the term
obesity. As a result, the committee supports a move away from using the term
obesity in prevention and intervention programs and public information
campaigns, and move the focus from weight to health. However the committee
accepts that in medical and overarching policy settings, there is no current
agreed alternative to the term, and as such it will continue to be used.
National Obesity Strategy
At present, Australia does not have an overarching strategy
to tackle obesity. The committee heard compelling evidence around the need
for a wide ranging array of multi-strategies to address obesity. The committee
is of the view that a whole‑of‑government approach at the federal
level is required to develop, resource and deliver a comprehensive National
Obesity Strategy. The committee believes that key to the success of a national
strategy is the establishment of a National Obesity Taskforce, which would
comprise representatives from all levels of government alongside stakeholders
from the NGO and private sectors. The inclusion of all stakeholders is critical
to the taskforce adopting a coordinated response to improve diets and
lifestyles, and reduce the burden of chronic disease in Australia.
While it is true that the causes of the rise in overweight
and obesity can be attributed to multiple systemic factors, there is no doubt
that a major contributor is poor diet and in particular the increased
consumption of processed and discretionary foods. Inquiry participants
identified several strategies to improve provision of healthier food choices,
including better food labelling. A simple and consistent front-of-pack
labelling system is essential for enabling consumers to make informed and
healthier food choices. The committee heard that the Health Star Rating (HSR)
system has the potential to empower consumers to effectively compare the
nutritional value of foods. However, the committee was made aware of a number
of significant problems with the current HSR. The committee is supportive of
making the HSR system mandatory and recommends the adoption of some significant
changes to address inconsistencies in the system. Importantly, the committee is
of the view that making it mandatory will drive food companies to reformulate
more of their products in order to achieve higher HSR ratings.
Food reformulation initiatives can improve the availability
of healthier products, and can contribute to improve diet at a population
level. The committee received compelling evidence that reformulation works,
especially around salt and sugar. The committee is of the view that
reformulation of food and products must be accelerated to enable increased
access to healthier food options.
Tax on sugary drinks
The committee is of the view that the introduction of a tax
on sugar-sweetened beverages should be considered as it would have a significant
impact on reformulation. It will compel the food industry to reformulate more
of their products. This will drive food and drink companies to focus on
producing and marketing much healthier products.
Advertising of discretionary foods
The committee heard compelling evidence supporting the
introduction of stricter rules aimed at reducing children's exposure and
influence of discretionary food marketing on children. The committee believes
that there is a need to review the current rules around advertising on
free-to-air television and recommends introducing restrictions on discretionary
food and drink advertising on free-to-air television until 9.00pm.
Additionally, the committee believe that children and their parents need to be
better informed about the nutritional value of the foods and drinks advertised
on all forms of media.
The committee heard that there is a clear need for
governments' leadership to establish and resource comprehensive education
campaigns. The committee is of the view that public education campaigns are
effective and play an important role in improving attitudes and behaviours
around diet and physical activity. The committee agrees with submitters that
there is a critical need for developing a suite of publicly funded education
Health care interventions
Health interventions are essential for treating those
already living with obesity. Prevention programs and early clinical
interventions to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity are also important.
Inquiry participants identified that many factors influence whether children
will become overweight or obese in their early years, pointing to the need to
develop and implement a range of strategies to prevent and treat childhood
obesity. The committee therefore proposes that there should be a subset of the
National Obesity Taskforce created which would be responsible for the
development, design, implementation, and management of funding for a National
Childhood Obesity Strategy. Issues around access, availability, appropriateness
and affordability of treatments are currently impeding the delivery of
effective health interventions. In order to accelerate access to treatment
options, the committee recommends that obesity is recognised as a complex and
chronic disease and added to the list of medical conditions eligible for the
Chronic Disease Management scheme. The committee received compelling evidence
about the benefits of bariatric surgical interventions for some patients.
However, access to bariatric surgery services remains limited. Too few
hospitals offer these services and many health professionals continue to be
reluctant to offer this treatment option. Campaigns to educate the medical
profession about the cost effectiveness and health benefits of bariatric
surgical interventions should be considered.
The committee noted the success of multi-strategy,
community-based and led prevention programs. Submitters identified that a
whole-of-government approach combined with a whole-of-community approach is
required for such prevention programs to be successful. The committee is of the
view that a multi-pronged approach involving all sectors of the community work
well to address the structural causes of obesity and is an effective driver to
achieve systemic changes. The committee recommends that funding is
directed toward the development and implementation of such programs.
The committee received a wealth of information and evidence
throughout the inquiry and thanks all those who participated. As a result, the
committee has made 22 recommendations, which aim at addressing in a holistic
way the complex causes of obesity.
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