The latest scorecard on the government’s performance on obesity prevention released by RE-FRESH researchers has gained significant media attention, with a potential audience reach of up to three million people.Radio, print, television and online media sources have been quick to jump on the release of the Food Policy Index 2022 report, which benchmarks the Australian government on its implementation of globally recommended policies to improve population diets.
This latest assessment – the third release since The Food Policy Index was developed in 2017 – found major weaknesses in Australian government policy relative to international best practice, with limited progress in the five years up until June 2021.
The report was released at the International Congress on Obesity in Melbourne in October, with coverage including articles in The Australian Financial Review, SBS News, the Herald Sun and Kids News.
RE-FRESH Chief Investigator Associate Professor Gary Sacks told the media that the lack of action meant Australia was going backwards.
“The former Federal Government released key strategies including the National Preventive Health Strategy and the National Obesity Strategy, but this has yet to result in any changes on the ground,” A/Prof. Sacks said.
“Other countries have recognised the public health crisis they’re facing due to excessive rates of obesity, but Australian governments have been dozing off at the dinner table. Sleepy strategies are not enough – we need real change to help Australians improve their diets.”
“Unhealthy eating habits and obesity are leading contributors to poor health outcomes in Australia, and are highly costly to individuals, communities, the health-care system and the economy.
“Nearly 65 per cent of Australian adults and 25 per cent of Australian children are overweight or obese. Less than seven per cent of people in Australia consume a healthy diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
“These statistics haven’t improved over the past few years, despite obesity prevention being a national health priority,” A/Prof. Sacks said.
Drawing on the expertise of 84 experts from 37 organisations across Australia, the Food Policy Index report identifies key policy recommendations for the government, prioritised based on their perceived importance and feasibility over the next three years (2022-2025).
Identified priority areas for action at the federal level include:
- Protecting children from exposure to marketing of unhealthy food and beverages through comprehensive and consistent national regulations;
- Implementing a health levy on sugar-sweetened beverages and other unhealthy food, whilst addressing the affordability of healthy food; and
- Improving food labelling by mandating the Health Star Rating scheme and requiring warning labels on products high in added sugar, sodium and/or saturated fat.
Jane Martin, who leads the Obesity Policy Coalition and is an Associate Investigator with RE-FRESH, was one of the partners in the study. She said an urgent imperative was for government to protect children from unhealthy food marketing.
“Australian children should be able to watch an online video, their favourite TV show, or participate in sport without being bombarded with ads for junk food. For too long these companies have been left to make up their own sham rules, which are weak and ineffective,” Ms Martin said.
“Other governments around the world are taking strong action to protect children from seeing this marketing as they go about their daily lives.
“There is also strong support from the Australian community for governments to impose higher standards on marketing to support children’s health and wellbeing,” Ms Martin said.
For more information about the Food Policy Index, go to: https://www.foodpolicyindex.org.au/
– Read the 2022 Federal Government scorecard HERE
– Read the 2022 Victorian Government scorecard HERE
Further state and territory report released are planned in the coming months.
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