Junk food and trust

Australians are super-sizing their meals and super-sizing themselves! And the outlook is diabolical, says MICHAEL MOORE

THE obesity epidemic is real. There has been no crisis – people just gradually keep getting bigger.

The health impact means the human and community costs are growing exponentially. Who can be trusted to do something about it – industry or our political leaders?

The powerful food lobby argues it is all about personal responsibility; their mantra is that there’s no reason for governments to interfere engendering fear of the “nanny state”?

The problem of obesity is fairly simple – calories consumed either equals calories expended – or they are stored as fat.

The trouble is that the style of food that is eaten, the size of the portions and the way it is prepared has changed considerably in one generation.

There are tools that government can use. Junk food advertising is one strategy, but there are others; regulating the level of salt and fat in manufactured foods, simple labelling of foods so that people understand what they are purchasing and marketing campaigns.

Industry knows government can’t compete with their level of marketing and it opposes the other tools. And people get fatter.

To undermine the push for regulation of junk food advertising to children, the Australian Quick Service Restaurant Industry, which includes giants such as McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut, adopted the “Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children”.

The message was that there would be no need for government interference.

They would take on responsibility to introduce a system of “self-regulation”. Sounds good, but this week the self-regulation concept was blown out of the water by an article published in the “Medical Journal of Australia”.

Children’s exposure to television advertising for unhealthy fast food has remained unchanged since the introduction of industry self-regulation, according researchers, led by dietitian Lana Hebden, of the University of Sydney.

They analysed all TV ads broadcast during a four-day sample period in May 2009 before self-regulation and after the introduction of the QSRI initiative in April 2010. At stake were the claims of the self-regulatory initiative which began in August 2009.

The findings showed the frequency of fast food ads significantly increased over the study period, from 1.1 per hour in 2009 to 1.5 per hour in 2010.

In the same way industry is now arguing against the sensible use of the proposed multiple traffic-light labelling and favouring a system of “percentage daily intake”.

This is the system currently on many food packages that takes an advanced university degree to understand, a millennium to interpret and even longer to apply to an individual.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.


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