Aussies’ Poor Diet and Smoking Habit Blamed on Government, Researchers Report

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By Athena Yenko | February 4, 2014 1:41 PM EST

In mid-2009 the Federal Government's Food and Health Dialogue took place to asses improvements needed to be done in the nutritional profile of foods and diets among Australians.

However, almost 5 years after, evaluation by Professor Bruce Neal from The George Institute and The University of Sydney found that nothing from the dialogue was ever implemented by the government. This evaluation published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that only 11 out of 124 possible action plans remain plainly targets, but nothing was delivered.

As a result, Australians continued their poor diet. In fact, poor diet at present became Australia's leading cause of cancer more than smoking. Australia has the third-highest cancer rate in the world, after Denmark and France, as mentioned by a report from World Health Organisation.

"Poor diet is now an even bigger cause of ill health for Australia than smoking. Unfortunately, while the government has been doing a stellar job on tobacco control, it's not doing quite so well in the food space." said Mr Neal.

"If we are to get on top of health problems like obesity, diabetes and heart disease we have to fully implement the Dialogue objectives. The huge quantities of salt, sugar and fat added to the food supply by industry are now the main cause of ill health in the country, and the Dialogue is the only serious attempt to get on top of this. Clearly this is a complex and ongoing process. Some companies have been making a real effort, but if you look at the big picture progress has been depressingly slow," Mr Neal expounded.

Co-author for the evaluation Professor Rob Moodie, from the University of Melbourne, supported Mr Neal's evaluation.

"We need the Government to make this a priority. And we have to find a way to strengthen a process that relies upon the voluntary engagement of industry. Powerful industry lobby groups like the Australian Food and Grocery Council are stifling action," Mr Moodie explained.

The authors of the evaluation came up with three significant recommendations on how government should implement its action plans for healthier diets among Australians.

1.      Rationalising of stakeholder roles - government and public health groups must set the policies. The food industry must deliver them. Government needs to take a stronger leadership role.

2.      Clear targets and timelines, with consequences for non-achievement - i.e. enforcement if voluntary measures fail to deliver. Currently, business incentives all push for the addition of more salt, fat and sugar in order to maximise profit.

3.      Better transparency and reporting - the successes and failures of individual industry players need to be highlighted, with easy community access to information that will empower consumer choices.

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