03.Experts call for regulation
What the government’s up against is a powerful, well-funded food and beverage industry,” says Kerin O’Dea, professor of population health and nutrition at the University of South Australia. She argues junk foods are highly profitable, and it’s not in the industry’s financial interest to cooperate with public health initiatives - but when governments mandate regulations, the industry does toe the line.
"In the past, governments have legislated to force changes that are good for public health, like seat belts in cars and smoking laws,” she says. “But while Australia has been a world leader in the fight against big tobacco, we’re quite timid when it comes to the processed food industry, and the media companies that make money out of junk food advertising.”
Opponents of government intervention are disdainful of “nanny state” policies. However, O’Dea argues critics of intervention need to realise the massive financial costs - like the estimated $56 billion spent on obesity annually in Australia - are borne by the whole community.
“The National Broadband Network is called expensive at $30 billion in total,” says O'Dea, “but the financial costs of obesity are more than that every year.”
The World Health Organization weighs in
There are no simple solutions to the
obesity problem, and no single approach
is likely to be effective.
However, a World
Health Organization report concluded
that marketing of junk food to children
has damaging consequences and that
tightening restrictions on marketing is
central to the fight against childhood
“In a perfect world this would mean
banning all advertising and marketing
of discretionary foods to children under
12,” says Dr Mark Lawrence, associate
professor in public health nutrition at
Deakin University’s School of Exercise
and Nutrition Sciences. "Research consistently finds that government regulation of advertising is the among the most cost-effective interventions for obesity prevention.”
Regulation saves money in
healthcare costs that are avoided, and it
doesn’t cost much to change the law to
protect the rights of children in this way, says Lawrence.
Jane Martin, executive manager of the
Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC), agrees. “Getting junk food out of junior sport
would be a good start, followed by
restrictions on advertising of unhealthy
food in the highest-rating children’s
programs between 6pm and 9pm.”