Australia is far further behind than other countries in dealing with the unhealthy conditions of the diets we consume.
A number of other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico, have taken significant steps to increase the nutritional status of the population and to prevent overweight.
However, our most recent assessment, which was released in conjunction with the International Congress on Obesity, has identified numerous flaws in Australian policy in relation to international best practices and a lack of progress on policy over the last five years.
What did we assess?
Our evaluation of federal policy contained an assessment of where Australia is doing in 50 policy areas aimed at dealing with unhealthy diets. These policy areas have major influences on the products we purchase and eat, as well as policies that affect the cost and affordability of various food items as well as the varieties of food we can choose from, the manner in which food items are labeled, as well as the way in which food is advertised.
We collaborated with officials from the government to record the current actions in every policy area. We then analyzed how the current policies were compared with international benchmarks.
We also made suggestions to fill in the gaps and prioritize them according to their importance relative to feasibility and. Experts from 37 organizations participated in the evaluation and prioritization.
How does Australia compare to other countries?
The implementation of internationally recommended policies to improve diets for the population and tackle obesity in Australia does not meet internationally accepted best practices.
The areas where Australia is performing very well
One of the few areas in which Australia performed well was the field of food labeling. Certain of the laws regarding the ingredient lists, as well as nutrition information panels and health claims, were rated as the best anywhere in the world.
Another area that earned Australia the top score is that the GST is not applicable to fresh fruits and vegetables and helps to lower prices compared to other healthier products.
What can other countries do better than you?
Many other countries have enacted guidelines to restrict the promotion of unhealthy food items and help consumers select healthier choices.
Countries that are located in Latin America are leading the global trend. Chile has implemented extensive restrictions on television advertisements for food that are unhealthy, as well as prominent warning labels on the packaging of harmful products, in addition to taxation on drinks that contain sugar. Mexico has similar policies. The labels warning about the products that are sold in Chile declare that it’s high in calories (calories) and sugar as well as saturated fats and sodium (salt). Shutterstock
All over all over the globe, over 50 nations currently have taxation on drinks that contain sugar. There is evident evidence that these taxes have reduced consumption of taxed beverages and also enticed soft drink makers to lower the amount of sugar in their drinks.
Many different governments have taken strong steps to safeguard children from being exposed to the marketing of food that is unhealthy. For instance, the United Kingdom is set to stop advertising food products that are unhealthy online and on television after 9 pm until 2024. Canada is also a country with identical laws that are in the midst of their parliament.
The UK has recently made significant modifications in the way supermarkets function. The laws that took the market this month will mean that harmful products can’t be displayed in prominent store places, such as check-out areas and shop entrances.
Additionally to this, the UK has also drafted the idea of a restriction of price reductions for unhealthy foods. However, the implementation is undetermined due to the recent change in the leadership of the government.
A variety of other innovative policies are being implemented globally. For example, in certain regions of Mexico, retail stores are not allowed to sell unsafe food products to children. In Argentina, the country has laws that define the minimum sodium (salt) amount in a variety of items.
How bad are Australian diets?
Obesity and unhealthy diets are the major causes of a poor health situation in Australia.
Less than 7 percent of the population of Australia has a balanced diet in line with Australian guidelines for diet.
Approximately 65 percent of Australian adults and 25 percent of Australian children are obese or overweight.
Although there is no reliable data about how these figures have changed over the last couple of years, they have likely gotten worse from the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suppose we see government-wide actions to improve the diets of people and improve the quality of food. In that case, there will be huge costs to health and finances for communities, individuals, and the overall economy.
What actions should Australia take?
Government policy is required to improve the diets of the population and tackle overweight. This includes:
- Protecting children from exposure to the advertising of harmful food and drinks by enforcing comprehensive and consistent laws at the national level
- Implementing a health levy on drinks that contain sugar (a sugar tax) as well as other unhealthy foods as well as addressing the cost of healthy foods
- improving food labeling by requiring the labeling of food products with the Health Star rating scheme and the requirement of warning labels on foods with high levels of added sugar as well as sodium (salt) or saturated fat.
What’s the biggest obstacle that’s preventing us from progressing?
In the last 12 months, the federal government issued crucial strategies in this field, such as the National Preventive Health Strategy (2021-2030) and the National Obesity Strategy (2022-2032). The system has not yet resulted in any significant changes in the field.
In addition, there is overwhelming emotional support from people in the Australian community for the government to set more stringent standards for marketing in order to ensure children’s health and well-being. In excess of 75 percent of Australians support warning labels on foods that are unhealthy.
It’s exciting to see the momentum build towards a legal prohibition on the sale of unhealthy beverages and food to children.
It’s that the time is right for our federal government to work with the world’s other governments and implement meaningful policy changes that will aid Australians in bettering their diets.