The inaugural Australian Obesity Summit took place in Sydney on March 29-30, 2010. Despite consensus as to the severity of obesity in Australia, there was an absence of agreement in regards to whether obesity policy should be government-or self-regulated, reports Katrina Diamonon, Consumer Markets Analyst at Datamonitor.
Speakers from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing for example, recommended the Australian government implement standards such as the UK’s Healthy Food Code of Good Practice, which sets out seven areas where the UK Government expects food companies to take action to demonstrate their commitment to promote healthy eating.
Other speakers demanded more robust action from the government. Claire Hewat, chief executive officer of the Dieticians Association of Australia, called for more funding for obesity prevention initiatives, to teach Australians good nutrition habits and to stem some of the enormous cost of obesity (Access Economics estimated that obesity cost the Australian economy $58 billion in 2008).
Representatives from the food and beverage industry on the other hand, believed that self-regulation has in many cases led to significant progress. Peter West, general manager of MARS Chocolate, pointed to a number of company initiatives including the introduction of RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) information on the front of all packaging, and modifying Mars’ marketing code to eliminate child-targeted activity.
While recommendations regarding policy were far from uniform, there was concurrence that individuals have an important role to play in reversing the epidemic. Home cooking was cited as a valuable skill in learning healthy eating habits; however it was noted that a clear deficiency in cooking knowledge and understanding of food has contributed to progressively unhealthy diets. Numerous initiatives such as the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program have been implemented to educate Australians on the virtues of cooking and positive nutrition.
The Australian Obesity Summit was a glaring reminder that obesity is indeed an exacerbating problem in Australia (and worldwide), and that the plethora of conflicting food information and competing interests has done little to improve consumer understanding, wellbeing and health. While there was broad agreement on the gravity of the problem, this was not matched by commensurate solidarity regarding a viable solution.