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"We'll soon be fat as Americans," health experts warn as obesity overtakes smoking as the biggest killer of Aussies.
“It’s not just deaths, it’s condemning people to a lifetime of ill health," said Tim Gill, principal researcher at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at Sydney University. "Diabetes used to be a condition in 60-year-olds and 70-year-olds and now we’re seeing it in 30-year-olds because they’re seriously overweight.”
Gill says a whole-of-government approach is needed to fix the problem — not just health, but transport, roads and agriculture.
‘‘Everything is working against you in the same way that it was so hard to give up smoking. Everyone smoked, they were relatively cheap, they were readily available, in your face in displays at shops and pubs and they were marketed heavily, like chocolate is today, as a reward,’’ Gill said.
“We’re becoming more and more sedentary. Our work environment is almost totally sedentary now, our leisure time pursuits are mostly sedentary. Food, particularly high-fat high-sugar foods are much, much cheaper in relative terms now than they’ve ever been and we have a higher income.”
We have also become “immune” to being overweight, he said.
A remedy also lies in a dramatic cultural shift by individuals.
“People really don’t want to actually change very much because it’s about doing hard things. It’s about eating less and it’s about doing more," Daube said. "Modern society is built for the motor car and it’s built for big portions.”
He said a government facing “hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths’’ needed to stand up to large manufacturing and advertising groups.
“If you thought the tobacco industry was powerful, look out for the junk food industry,” he said.
“In terms of government over the past two decades you’d probably give them one out of 10 for action.”
“If we were talking about preventing plane crashes or various kinds of disasters, we’d want governments to be 10 out of 10 and this is a disaster area. If we don’t act now we’re going to catch up with the States and that would be a catastrophe.”
Numerous taskforces have recommended better urban planning to make walking and cycling easier as well as bans on junk food ads during sporting matches, to no avail.
“Kids are being driven to school and any reductions on junk food promotion are voluntary codes,” Daube said.
A recent review by the health association of junk food advertising during television sport found the logo was visible 75 percent of the time, he said. “The producers and manufacturers are behaving outrageously.”
He praised the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, for last year calling for a soda tax and would like to see the same in Australia.