Don’t get too excited about the Preventative Health Taskforce recommendations, cautions Professor Boyd Swinburn, Professor of Population Health at Deakin University, and Director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Obesity Prevention. There have been other reports making similar useful recommendations which have gone nowhere.
“The decision by the Preventative Health Taskforce to start with the soft policies is clearly a political one.
An evidence-based decision would have looked at the track record of self-regulation of food, alcohol and tobacco industries and seen that they serve the industries and not the public.
The Taskforce report is a major win for the food industry which is now globally in ascendancy in the policy tug-of-war over hard policies to reduce obesity.
Even with a Labor Government and a sympathetic minister, we end up with a set of soft options which promise to get harder over time but in reality are at high risk of staying soft.
The option to convert self regulation for junk marketing to children into statutory regulations is 2 elections away – that leaves a lot of time for industry lobbying and PR for the status quo.
The proposed voluntary front-of-pack labelling option has no planned track into regulations and the issue of taxing junk food is still recommended for investigation only.
The monitoring systems for keeping the industry on track and judging the ‘effectiveness’ of these voluntary schemes is not well specified.
The government is not responding to the report until next year and these monitoring systems may not be sorted out for another year or two – is that when the 4 year clock on industry action starts ticking? The targets that have been set will never be met at that rate.
It was interesting how the physical activity options were always placed above the healthy eating options and that eating more (of the good foods of course) was always placed ahead of eating less (in fact, the eating less was not even present in earlier drafts).
In reality, to make a difference the order of importance needs to be reversed in both instances. The hands of the ‘Hollow Men’ were clearly evident.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority report was just a joke. After 2 years of consultations, deliberations and delays, they parroted the food industry’s flat earth statement that marketing of junk foods to children is not a contributor to obesity and a code that was essentially ‘business-as-usual’ apart from a ban on some cartoon characters for about an hour a day of children’s programming.
No wonder they were so ashamed of it they tried to release it under the shadow of the Taskforce report in the hope that it would not be noticed.
All the recommendations in the Taskforce Report are very positive and if the government enacts them all we will be well on the way to making major inroads into reducing obesity.
However, the same can be said of the 1997 NHMRC report ‘Acting on Australia’s Weight’ or the National Obesity Taskforce report ‘Healthy Weight 2008.’
The fact that neither of these were anywhere near implemented means we have to remain very guarded about the eventual impact of all the efforts of the Preventative Health Taskforce while we have a government so prone to being dictated to by big business.”