04 Mar, 2022 Last updated: 04 Mar, 2022

New national strategy a crucial roadmap for obesity prevention in Australia, but less onus should be on individual responsibility.

 Health promotion foundation VicHealth has welcomed the long overdue National Obesity Strategy 2022-2032, a crucial roadmap for obesity prevention in Australia, but believes more urgent action should be taken without defaulting to individual responsibility.

The strategy, released on World Obesity Day, is a 10-year framework for action to create supportive environments, empower people to stay healthy and enable access to early intervention and primary health care.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the number of families fighting an uphill battle to put food on the table. They are often left with no option but to turn to cheap and unhealthy food to feed their families.

In Australia, two-thirds of adults and a quarter of children and adolescents were above a healthy weight before the pandemic. Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals that children from low socioeconomic backgrounds were also more than twice as likely to be above a healthy weight than those from the highest socioeconomic areas (11% vs 4.4%). These figures are likely to have worsened over the last two years.

While VicHealth supports the vision for a nation that encourages and enables healthy weight and healthy living for all, this strategy puts too much responsibility on individuals who are up against an industry that spends more than $550 million peddling their products through advertising.

“Integrating a strong health equity approach throughout the National Obesity Strategy will be essential to ensuring all Australians – particularly those facing greater barriers to good health – can benefit," said VicHealth CEO, Dr Sandro Demaio.

“A national strategy addressing the unhealthy environments that lead to obesity is a promising step forward. While reducing weight stigma can lead to a more inclusive society, pushing the onus back onto everyday Australians and relying on behaviour change is simply not going to move the needle.”

“Most of us try to eat healthy foods as much as possible, but being surrounded by unhealthy food products and marketing undermines people’s efforts to maintain a healthy diet. Unhealthy food is easy to find, eat and buy and we’re bombarded by advertising every day.”

“We must take stronger measures to reduce the consumption of unhealthy food and drinks and increase the availability of healthier options in all corners of the country – no matter the postcode,” he urged.

The prevention of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases should be an urgent priority.

This strategy has been a long time in the making. There’s no time to waste - now is the time to act.

“This is our chance to set up a healthier future,” said Dr Demaio.

“We need a systemic approach to obesity prevention in Australia, including clear and mandatory standards. We must put our people over industry profits, and we need rapid movement from for all levels of government.”

“We must act with urgency, prioritising protecting our kids against the predatory tactics of unhealthy food and drink companies.”

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