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Will preventative health issues ever figure in the election campaign?

Finally, we’re getting a little election campaign action on health. As you’ve no doubt heard, the PM today announced a series of mental health initiatives (stay tuned for more comment on these in a later Croakey post).

But the Parents Jury is wishing for much more attention to some bigger-picture health issues.

Caitlin Syrett, Project Officer of The Parents Jury, writes:

“In May, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon declared that “increasing our action on preventative health has never been more important” (In the response to the National Preventative Health Strategy, May 2010).

So why at this time, when the major political parties are outlining their visions for the future of Australia, has no one commented on preventative health?

Around 60% of Australian adults are overweight or obese and if current trends continue without solid intervention, it is predicted that our national figure will blow out to 75% by 2025.

Obesity and its associated chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and mental health are the greatest health issues. They will put an enormous strain on our health care system and the national economy for decades to come. It is predicted that the cost of lifestyle-related cases of type 2 diabetes alone will quadruple to $8 billion by 2032.

If the incoming federal government is genuinely concerned about the health of Australians, and the strength of the health system and the economy, it must get to the root of the problem and start talking about prevention.

With nearly one in four Australia children either overweight or obese, this talking needs to start now.

The Parents Jury is calling for:

  1. A ban on the advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks on free to air and subscription television stations from 6am to 9pm daily.
  2. A mandatory front-of-pack traffic light labelling system on all pre-packaged foods.
  3. Nationally-consistent mandatory school nutrition guidelines for public schools, encompassing all food environments, including canteens, vending machines, fundraising, classroom rewards, excursions and food company sponsorship.
  4. The phasing out of advertising and sponsorship in children’s sport by unhealthy food and drink companies.

The incoming federal government must address these four areas and support Australian parents to overcome the unhealthy influences that contribute to our current rates of childhood overweight and obesity.

Structural change can empower parents to become informed consumers on behalf of their children, and reinforces their efforts to raise healthy and active children.

The Parents Jury’s policy priorities will also:

  • help parents make informed nutritional choices,
  • reduce children’s exposure to promotions for unhealthy food and drink
  • drive consumer demand towards healthier foods and drinks, which will in turn
  • create a financial incentive for the food industry to manufacture healthier foods and drinks, and contribute to an overall healthier food supply.

With nearly one in four Australia children either overweight or obese, there is an urgent need for the incoming federal government to make preventative health a national priority.”

•  The Parents Jury, if you haven’t already met them (and I do recommend making their acquaintance), is an online network of parents, grandparents and guardians, who are interested in improving the food and physical activity environments of Australian children.  It is an initiative of Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia Vic, QLD and WA, the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society, VicHealth and YMCA Victoria.

Comments 3

  1. AdelaideSkeptic says:

    Congratulations to TPJ for their great work. The first step in creating healthier environments for children is to introduce a comprehensive food categorisation system (like the traffic light system). This will enable parents & kids to make informed decisions and enable policy makers to begin legislating to control supply and marketing of unhealthy products. Junkfood taxes, supermarket segregation & compulsory marketing and advertising restrictions are needed to control the epidemic. Im sure there will be a lot of hot air from the big corporates, but its been done before with cigarettes (and that was costing Australia less $ in health). The government should realise that McDonalds and Co would make a fabulous new source of health revenue which they could use to subside healthier food options and expand our failing health system.

  2. Sense Seeker says:

    Here in Queensland there was talk of banning advertising for unhealthy foods that targets children. The Qld government appeared genuinely interested, but nonetheless the idea seems to have died a quiet death – or at least a deep freeze. It may have been a smoke screen from the government to make the impression it was taking action, or there may have been some hot air from big corporations involved. I don’t know and hope for a good piece of investigative journalism.

    I do worry about the influence of big business on Australian politics. Powerful vested interests prevented effective policy on climate change. Miners with deep pockets have blunted the mining tax and are working on a complete block in that area, too. In both cases are failures of democracy and the press in Australia: spin trumps science and independent studies, apparently. No reason why food policy would fare differently, with a similar corporate landscape.

    Who would support the Parent Jury’s points? The coalition is very unlikely to do so; it generally favours individual freedom and big business. The ALP might support TPJ’s wishlist in a general sort of way but seems unable to ever come to any specific measures on issues where they meet opposition from big business. The Greens are the best bet for this agenda. Have they got a position on these issues?

    I expect we’ll need TPJ for a while yet. But change is possible, and TPJ helps bringing it about!

  3. Weary Dunlop says:

    In Australia, maybe.

    In the UK, maybe not.

    Witness the (roly poly and smoky) Shape of Things to Come, with this latest bit of evidence based policy making from the UK via The Guardian:

    “(UK health Secretary) Andrew Lansley intends to rip up much of the approach to public health…Lansley’s answer involves incentives such as pedometers, which increase users’ physical activity; telling smokers their “lung age”, which makes them more likely to quit; and his belief that “advertising social norms can snap people out of the fantasy that their drinking, smoking or eating habits are the same as everyone else’s”.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2010/jul/27/andrew-lansley-health-personal-responsibility

    I suspect Lansley’s attitude, and his desired health outcomes may also have something to do with whether one went to Oxbridge, whether one lives in Peckham, and how one’s mental hygeine is holding up.

    Let’s fall to our knees and pray that we don’t get too much of this think-tankery transferred from the UK.

    Especially as we can point to how incredibly successful primary care prevention initiatives such as the lifestyle modification programs have been in overcoming the social determinants of health in Australia.

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