01.Obesity and nutrition
Over time, poor food choices can lead to obesity — a risk factor for other diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and some cancers.
In Australian 67% of men and 52% of women are overweight or obese. One in five children are overweight or obese. (AIHW)
Obese children and obese adults place an enormous burden on the health system. The Commonwealth Government has recognised this — in 2003 it convened the National Obesity Taskforce. The plan outlined a range of actions to be taken, such as reducing energy density and portion sizes of some manufactured foods, and monitoring the effectiveness of the Children’s Television Standards in regulating food advertising to children.
Combating obesity involves strategies to reduce energy intake as well as strategies to increase use of energy through physical activity. CHOICE concentrates on the first of these as we believe it is not given the attention it needs.
What we want
There is no question that individuals and parents have responsibility for making healthy choices on behalf of themselves and their children. Likewise, the food industry has a responsibility to provide consumers with a wide variety of healthy foods, and the advertising industry has a duty to market food responsibly (see “Look into my eyes" Consuming Interest Spring 2005).
We believe greater action needs to be taken by government to ensure that the food supply and the marketing and advertising of foods do not undermine efforts to encourage healthy eating.
If the Commonwealth Government is serious about reducing the alarming rate of overweight and obesity it must act immediately to implement the recommendations in the National Action Agenda. Those actions which impact on the production and advertising of manufactured foods are some of the most difficult to implement, but they are at least as important as the other strategies such as increasing nutrition education and encouraging physical activity.
CHOICE would like to see:
- Manufacturers and retailers reduce the levels of fat, salt and sugar in foods
- A greater range of healthy snacks and meals (those lower in kilojoules, saturated fat, total fat, sugars and salt)
- Smaller serving sizes for manufactured single serve products and meals
- A ban on advertising unhealthy foods during the hours that children watch television
- Food labels that allow consumers to make informed, healthy choices but do not mislead consumers about the health benefits of individual foods (see our health claims policy).
At the moment neither the food industry nor the Commonwealth government support banning any food advertising to children. In the absence of a ban CHOICE welcomes a current proposal to review the extent and impact of food advertising to children, or any regulatory or self regulatory measures which require or encourage less advertising of unhealthy food, whether it is initiated by the government or industry.
What we are doing
The prevention of obesity is an underlying goal of CHOICE’s work on food policy. CHOICE provides consumer information about nutrition and healthy eating in CHOICE magazine and CHOICE Online.
CHOICE recently made this submission to the Preventative Health Taskforce regarding obesity prevention.
In 2006 CHOICE published Little Bellies, Big Problems: How parents, industry and the government can solve Australia's childhood obesity crisis. The report details seven ways to combat obesity.
CHOICE campaigns for a responsible approach to advertising of food to children. CHOICE is a member of the Coalition on Food Advertising to Children, which is working for a ban on all food advertising to children.
CHOICE advocates for an environment that supports consumers to make healthy choice by calling for a better regulation of advertising to children and improving the nutritional value of many products in the food supply.
What you can do
For a range of information on particular food products, see the food section.
For information about individuals responding to weight problems see the advice given by the Commonwealth Department of Health or your State Health Department.
Foods as medicines, the food regulation loophole (Consuming Interest Autumn 2005)
The battle over biomarkers (Consuming Interest Summer 2005)
Keep up to date with our work on this issue - subscribe to CHOICE Campaigns Update (eNews).