Obesity and nutrition

Helping consumers make healthy choices
 
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  • Updated:8 Jun 2007
 

01 .Obesity and nutrition

array of healthy foods

The issue

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.

Email campaigns@choice.com.au

More Information

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).

 
 

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02.A call to action on childhood obesity

 

In 2006 CHOICE published Little Bellies, Big Problems: How parents, industry and the government can solve Australia's childhood obesity crisis. The report detailed seven actions to combat childhood obesity.

Read the full report: Little Bellies, Big Problems [PDF]

A call to action on childhood obesity

Action 1: Effective health promotion and healthy eating education programs for parents and children.

Action 2: Food manufacturers and fast food outlets to reduce the fat, sugar, kilojoules and salt content of kids’ food.

Action 3: Better alignment of the Commonwealth Government’s anti-obesity strategies with food regulation.

Action 4: A consistent nutrition labeling scheme to help consumers make healthy choices.

Action 5: Active enforcement of the new nutrition, health and related claims standard.

Action 6: Stronger government regulation of food marketing to children.

Action 7: A single contact point for complaints about food ads.

03.Fact Sheet: Obesity prevention and nutrition

 

Prevalence of overweight and obesity

  • The rate of overweight and obesity has almost doubled amongst Australian adults over the last 20 years.
  • 67% of Australian men and 52% of Australian women are overweight or obese.
  • It is estimated that 20-25% of Australian children are overweight or obese. The rate of childhood overweight and obesity doubled in the 10 years to 1995.

Health consequences of overweight and obesity

The health consequences of obesity include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, hypertension, musculoskeletal problems and some cancers.

In children, overweight and obesity can also lead to psychosocial problems such as of poor self-esteem, depression and social isolation.

The cost of overweight and obesity

The most recent estimate of the costs of obesity cited by the Commonwealth Department is in the range $680 million to $1.239 billion. Prior to this the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Centre for Health Program Evaluation estimated that the direct cost of obesity was around 2% of Australia’s total health care costs. This figure is considered conservative as it does not include indirect costs such as absenteeism and lost production.

Energy In versus energy out

In most cases overweight and obesity occurs when, over an extended period, of time the amount of energy (calories or kilojoules) consumed in food and drinks exceeds the amount of energy that the body uses up during exercise and general day-to-day activity.

Regular physical activity is vital in preventing weight gain. But a healthy diet is just as important. There is an array of healthy foods available to consumers (fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish, low fat dairy products and wholegrain breads). There are also a lot of unhealthy highly processed foods and drinks such as sugary breakfast cereals, sugary, fatty and salty snack foods and fast foods. These foods often appeal to our taste buds and our need to eat on the run. Eaten in moderation they are unlikely to cause obesity.

Reducing obesity

Individuals, including parents, have a vital role to play in preventing overweight and obesity, but governments and the food and marketing industry also have a role to play in ensuring that it is easy for consumers to make healthy choices.

If Governments are serious about tackling the obesity issue then they need to address both sides of the obesity equation. Healthy lifestyle campaigns are relatively easy to implement but may have limited impact. Governments must also consider the more controversial approaches that make it easier for consumers to make healthy food choices.

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, sugar 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)

Source for statistics: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging unless otherwise stated — http://www.health.gov.au/internet/wcms/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-hlthwt-obesity.htm 

Download PDF version

04.Parents Jury fighting child obesity

 
The Parents Jury is an online network of Australian parents who wish to voice their views and to collectively advocate for the improvement of children's food and physical activity environments (for example, reduced junk food marketing to children, healthy choices for school canteens, and activity-friendly neighbourhoods).

The Parents Jury is supported by Cancer Council Australia and its member organisations, Diabetes Australia — Vic,QLD & WA, the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS) and VicHealth. Together these organisations have a major interest in the prevention of childhood overweight and obesity.

The Australian Parents Jury was launched in August 2004 with an initial jury of 12 parents, based on a UK group of the same name.

Information gathered from members contributes towards The Parents Jury's collective voice in the media, and to lobby governments, food manufacturers and other key decision makers. The website also contains grassroots advocacy tips and resources to help members become Parent Champions for their children's health.

Membership of The Parents Jury is free to all parents, grandparents and guardians of children aged under 18.

If you're interested in getting involved in The Parents Jury, register online by visiting www.parentsjury.org.au.