A letter signed by more than 350 Australian health scientists has today been sent to the Medical Journal of Australia, urging Australian politicians and the public to recognise the link between obesity and global climate change.
Co-signatory Adjunct Professor Garry Egger, a Professor of Lifestyle Medicine at Southern Cross University and director of the Sydney Centre for Health Promotion and Research, said these two health threats clearly intersect. The letter highlights that this link has long been evident to health professionals.
The two greatest health threats the human population now faces are global climate change and the rise of obesity, and its life-threatening disease consequences, Professor Egger said.
Citing the letter, he said: “Big health gains have been made since the onset of industrialisation. However, we are now seeing the emergence of health risks caused by excesses in market-driven consumerism (including energy-dense processed foods), energy-subsidised exertion-free living, an over-arching Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fetishism, and, for climate change in particular, population growth.
“In light of our profession’s long experience of the smoking-disease debate, we recognise the serious threat posed to population health by a well-financed, doubt-fostering, opposition of vested interests.
“For smoking, it took 50 years and several million deaths to go from acceptance of the health hazard to application of effective interventions.
“With climate change we lack the luxury of time – and the stakes are much higher. Hence, a prudent, precautionary, strategy to tackle the big issues is essential.”
The health scientists have proposed two initiatives:
1. Convene a high-level, ongoing forum to discuss post-growth alternatives to unsustainable, consumption-based growth as the economic norm. This should involve health and social scientists, amongst others, and economists prepared to objectively take into account the real environmental costs of our actions.
2. Convene a multi-disciplinary taskforce to develop an Australian population policy: population is a key driver of energy use, greenhouse pollution and resultant ill-health. Despite the apparently widespread bias against public discussion of population, the topic is now attracting renewed attention and the debate should be facilitated.
Professor Egger said that the irony of a ‘no change’ approach to these two issues was that involuntary change to everyone’s lifestyle would become unavoidable.
The solution was to seek a sustainable economic system and stable population size that ensured prosperity without endangering both health and environmental quality, he said.
Human actions were seriously damaging our planet and our children’s health, he said, with one in three children destined to become obese and/or diabetic in their lifetime, while the population at large would face increasing health risks from climate change.
The letter has been signed by Professor Garry Egger (Southern Cross University), Professor Boyd Swinburn (Deakin University), Professor Fiona Stanley (University of WA and 2003 Australian of the Year), Professor Kerryn Phelps (GP, University of Sydney and Australasian Integrative Medical Association president) and more than 350 medical and health practitioners including 40 professors of medicine or health sciences.
Southern Cross University