Moore / Eye-opening health challenges the community faces

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THE recent ACT chief health officer’s report, “Healthy Canberra 2018”, is an eye-opener in examining the achievements and the challenges of individuals and governments in our community.

Michael Moore.

It sets the scene early, saying: “Canberrans enjoy one of the highest standards of health and wellbeing in the world and have the highest life expectancy in Australia”. So far, good news.

However, the chief health officer identifies some serious challenges such as an ageing population, increasing chronic conditions and the need to “provide environments that our community expects so that they can lead active, healthy and productive lives”.

The “National Sports Plan” was released within a day of “Healthy Canberra 2018” and began by pointing out “the health, cultural and economic contribution sport makes to our country is significant”.

Later the sports plan is even more specific in the way that it relates to health saying: “Sport plays a central role in keeping people active and healthy and can be the conduit to a long, healthy life.

“Through examining prevention we seek to identify how to use sport to achieve population health goals and reduce the burden of chronic disease in Australia, drawing from the wealth of expertise in this sector”.

Where active, healthy people is a key to a healthier society, the “National Sports Plan” is not enough on its own to address the most fundamental health issue identified in the chief health officer’s report – obesity and overweight children and adults lead to much greater levels of chronic disease, increased personal expenses, pain, discomfort and restrictions on functioning.

It also means a significant and increasing burden in economic and health costs for the community as a whole. As such it is both an issue of personal responsibility and good government guardianship.

Addressing overweight and obesity at the earliest possible stage has been part of the aim of ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris, who identified “prevention” as a key aim of her role in health. Her government tackled unhealthy food at school canteens, for example, and the good news in the report is a reduction from 23 per cent in 2015 to just 3 per cent two years later in 2017.

The report looks beyond our children with 63.5 per cent of adults overweight or obese. Most challenging are those aged 45 to 54 years who were more than 70 per cent either overweight or obese, compared to 40 per cent in the 18-to-24-year category.

The key to addressing overweight and obesity is the combination of good nutrition and a healthy, active lifestyle.

Some messages are getting through. There has been a significant reduction in the consumption of sugary soft drinks in the ACT dropping from 40 per cent in 2010 to 23 per cent in 2016 amongst our 5 to 15 year olds. We are eating more fruit, but still only around 10 per cent are eating the recommended daily intake of vegetables.

Governments encourage people to be more active. However, they have not yet been prepared to take on “big food”. The Health Star Rating system on packaged food is a start. It is not yet perfect and, although under review, is not yet mandatory. It wouldn’t be necessary if enough of us were eating in a manner consistent with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

Governments could demonstrate their own commitment to improving health by implementing a levy on sugary soft drinks with the revenue dedicated to prevention. Such a measure should and could be implemented immediately.

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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