About 60 people are diagnosed of Type 2 diabetes every day in Queensland.Diabetes Queensland welcomes the Queensland Government’s commitment to addressing the state’s current obesity epidemic but recently announced high-impact advertisements are only one piece of a complex puzzle.
Take the way we, as a society, have addressed smoking. Our success in this area shows it is possible to turn a public health crisis around with an integrated, multi-faceted response.
Anti-smoking advertising campaigns worked, not only because the ads were shocking, but also because they were supported by government regulation and investment in community-based support and interventions alongside a real commitment by business to ensuring healthier workplaces.
In other words, people weren’t just frightened off smoking they were discouraged by a whole range of societal changes. Remember when people smoked in workplaces, restaurants and planes? This no longer happens because of a combination of regulation and change in community attitudes.
We need a similar integrated response and commitment to combat obesity.
There are many similarities between the obesity epidemic and smoking and, just like smoking, a raft of measures is needed to address the current crisis. For the anti-obesity advertisements to succeed, they must be paired with measures that encourage a change in community and industry attitudes and empower people to make healthier lifestyle choices.
The causes behind the deadly obesity epidemic are complex and the response must be whole-of-community to bring about serious change. Everyone, including all three levels of government, business, the community and individuals, has a role to play.
We should see the ads as an important prompt to raise awareness of the issues but we also need to help people take the threat seriously and create an environment where it is easy for them to access information and implement lifestyle change.
To do this we need environments that promote physical activity, easier access to healthy food, government regulations and a serious contribution from the fast and processed foods sector to acknowledge the damage their products are doing.
Regulatory changes could include traffic light labelling and graphic warnings on some fast and processed foods, kilojoule displays in fast food restaurants and limits on the amounts of salt and fat in processed foods. We also need to look at introducing bans on advertising junk food to children as well as examining the complicated relationship between fast food and children’s sport.
But legislation alone won’t solve the problem and we need to have conversations in our workplaces and communities about creating healthy lifestyles and ensuring people have sufficient access to healthy foods and exercise options. Businesses need to take the health of their workforces seriously and our schools need to be educating children to be healthy adults.
The cost of inaction is far too great to ignore. Research conducted by Queensland Health in 2008 found the obesity epidemic cost the Queensland economy $11.6 billion. It isn’t just affecting individuals, it is harming our communities and that means we all have a role to play in the solution.
Acting on obesity makes sense for our health, our finances and our future.
Michelle Trute is the CEO of Diabetes Queensland. Obesity is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes, a preventable condition. About 60 new diagnoses of type 2 diabetes are made in Queensland every day.
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