The National Rural Health Alliance has joined a growing number of health organisations calling for a tax on sugary drinks.
It’s also calling for greater restrictions on marketing unhealthy food to children, including a ban on free to air TV advertising until after 9.30 at night.
The recommendations are part of the Alliance’s submission to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s obesity epidemic.
The National Rural Health Alliance represents 35 national organisations working across the rural and remote health sector. Members include the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), RACGP Rural and the Country Women’s Association of Australia.
“Australia has a system where the food and beverage industry broadly regulates itself,” said Alliance CEO Mark Diamond.
“With the obesity epidemic getting worse, it is clear that self-regulation is not working.”
“It’s time for governments to impose restrictions on advertising, impose a tax on sugary drinks so the price will rise by at least 20%, and introduce tougher labelling laws,” said Mr Diamond.
Many more children in rural and remote areas are obese or overweight than in major cities. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that in major cities 25% of children aged 2-17 years are obese or overweight. That figure blows out to 36% of children in remote areas.
“The impact of obesity in rural and remote areas cannot be underestimated. The list of chronic diseases associated with obese children is as long as it is serious,” Mr Diamond said.
Obese children are more likely to develop certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, asthma, back pain and problems, chronic kidney disease, dementia, diabetes, gallbladder disease, gout, and osteoarthritis. They are also more likely to develop these conditions at an earlier age than other children.
“A range of factors contribute to greater levels of obesity in country areas including lower incomes, lower levels of education and greater distances to access healthy food. In remote areas access to affordable and nutritious food is a real problem,” said Mr Diamond.
“The Alliance would like to see incentives to support grocers and transport companies to provide more affordable fresh fruit and vegetables to remote parts of Australia.”
The Alliance says tougher regulation and government intervention is just part of a broader approach needed to curb the obesity epidemic, and it calls on the Federal Government to develop a National Obesity Prevention Strategy.
“Obesity is a highly complex health issue to deal with. We need a multi-faceted approach with governments, schools, the health sector and the food industry working together,” Mr Diamond said.
The National Rural Health Alliance submission can be found on the Alliance website: http://www.ruralhealth.org.au/sites/default/files/submissions/NRHA_obesity_epidemic.pdf
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