Call to action on Australia's National Obesity Strategy, this World Obesity Day

6 Mar 2023
by Jane Martin, Executive Manager, Obesity Policy Coalition

This World Obesity Day, the Obesity Policy Coalition is calling out the lack of progress on Australia’s National Obesity Strategy, a year on from its launch. This roadmap was released by the previous federal government but to date, it’s a half-built road, sadly lacking drivers.

To protect our health and halt the environmental drivers of Australia’s growing obesity crisis, it’s critical we fund and implement the National Obesity Strategy’s recommendations.

Australia is facing a growing obesity crisis, with 12.5 million people above a healthy weight and a million children. Of concern, is the trend to move into the overweight category at younger ages, with almost half (46%) of 18-24 year olds entering adulthood with a risk factor that will have ongoing impacts on their quality of life. 

If we are to achieve positive, system-wide changes that benefit all, we must act quickly to implement recommended measures to improve our children’s health. One of the most critical measures is reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing.

Children should be able to go about their daily lives without being targeted by unhealthy food marketing, but right now processed food companies spend millions bombarding our kids with unhealthy food marketing. Marketers target kids online as they connect with friends, reach them through sport sponsorships, during their favourite TV shows or on billboards as they travel to school.

Kids are being aggressively targeted, and their data harvested, on digital platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube, and they may not even realise that what they’re seeing is advertising. This marketing is the wallpaper in their lives shaping their food preferences and their diets and as they grow into adulthood, increasing their likelihood of developing obesity - a risk factor for serious chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Countries like the United Kingdom have acted to strengthen their controls to ban unhealthy food advertising on TV at times when children are watching – from 5.30am up to 9pm in the evening, as well as committing to a ban on paid unhealthy food marketing online.

Another effective measure is introducing a health levy on manufacturers of sugary drinks. This policy has a proven track record in incentivising manufacturers to reduce sugar in their drinks and to reduce the population’s sugar consumption by sending a price signal to consumers to nudge them to low/no sugar alternatives.

Over 85 countries and jurisdictions around the globe including the UK, Mexico, France, Chile, and South Africa have taken this step to protect the health of their citizens. It's time for Australia to catch up. Strong public support already exists as more than 3 in 4 people support a sugary drink levy if funds raised were reinvested into prevention efforts.

Our community wants and expects government to intervene and prioritise our kids’ health over the profits of the processed food industry. We can no longer afford to wait until unhealthy weight overtakes tobacco as the leading preventable risk factor for the nation’s burden of disease.

This World Obesity Day, it's time for the Australian Government to prioritise the health of its citizens and take decisive action to address overweight and obesity.

Media contact
Debora McInnes
Senior Media Advisor
P: 03 9514 6435