Few people would need to be told how much of a serious problem the obesity problem is in Australia. The most recent Australian data paints a grim picture of our health, with 63% of adults deemed to be carrying too much weight.
Despite the best intentions of public health programs and a never-ending supply of best-selling fad diets to choose from, the Nation’s collective waistline continues to expand. So is the problem too far out of control? Is willpower and personal responsibility not enough in the face of pervasive food marketing, and declining levels of physical activity?
At its heart, overeating and underactivity are indisputably the cause of weight gain, yet the reasons for these occurring in the first place are a complex combination of genetics, environmental factors and psychological reasons.
While food marketing and television viewing attract the most attention, there are many other factors that have just as much scientific evidence to support a link. Lack of sleep, endocrine disorders, declining smoking rates, and increased use of a range of medications can all contribute to weight gain. Changes in ethnicity and age of the population, increasing maternal age, nutrition during pregnancy and pairing of physically similar people are all acknowledged factors as well.
With so many factors that can conspire to derail even the most concerted weight-loss effort, simplistic solutions that point the blame at just one factor will do little to address the problem. While dieting and individual responsibility can work for a single person, it does not work across the whole population.
The Government has no qualms in disproportionate taxing of alcohol and tobacco in the pursuit of reducing health and social harms from these products, yet baulks at the idea of similarly taxing junk food. Making healthy food choices both easy and cheap can be achieved by significantly subsidising healthy foods such as vegetables and fruit at the expense of high fat and sugar foods of questionable nutritional quality.
Introduction of consumer-friendly food labelling, such as the 'traffic light' guide, is an example of how to give people an easy to interpret guide to the nutritional merits of a packaged food. Our current system presents this information in a form that only the nutritionally literate can make sense of. Not surprisingly, the food industry in vehemently opposed to traffic light labelling
The obesity problem is one that is in our power to beat. A mixture of firm individual resolve combined with strong Government leadership in reshaping our environment will go a long way in addressing the long-term health of Australians.
Confused about the mixed soup of nutrition messages being stirred through the media? Tim maintains an active nutrition blog at www.thinkingnutrition.com.au where you'll find the latest nutrition research and controversies discussed in straight forward language, distilling out what you need to know for your better health.