West Australian Newspaper

Obesity epidemic looms as a crisis the nation must tackle

Picture this. You’re on the couch, your latest binge-watch is primed to begin and you are about to get stuck into a block of chocolate.

As you peel back the wrapper, you are stopped in your tracks by a picture of toxic, visceral fat wrapped around a heart.

Enough to put you off your dessert?

Your sweet treats are safe, for now, because graphic health warnings like this are limited to the horrifying pictures of gangrenous limbs and blackened lungs full of tar that now emblazon cigarette packaging.

But a group of University of WA researchers want similar warnings to be mandatory on junk food, too, in a bid to tackle the worrying obesity epidemic.

Their report, funded by Healthway, has also recommended limiting access to fast-food outlets, making the opt-in health star rating system compulsory and banning junk food advertising on public transport and on daytime TV.

There are mixed views on just how successful scare tactics, like the proposed graphic health warnings, would be in addressing the obesity crisis. But that such an idea is being floated speaks to how serious this crisis has become, not just in Australia but all over the world.

In the past fortnight the United Kingdom, where 67 per cent of men, 60 per cent of women and 20 per cent of children are overweight or obese, announced a plan to ban junk food ads before 9pm.

This comes six years after the introduction of a sugar tax in the UK.

Australia is the fifth most overweight nation in the developed world, according to the OECD.

Sixty seven per cent of adults and 25 per cent of children and adolescents are classed as overweight or obese. This has been exacerbated by COVID-19 which saw many of us reach for the comfort food as we retreated indoors, in front of screens.

If trends continue, more than 18 million Australians will be overweight or obese by 2030.

Urgent action is needed but it is at least another year away, because the overdue national obesity strategy — which has been in the works since 2018 — is not due to be given to health ministers until next year some time.

And even then, it will be in draft form.

The strategy, which was initially due to be finalised in 2020, will provide a framework for action across the next decade and is likely to look at everything from access and exposure to different food, the concept of a sugar tax and how to boost physical activity.

Any future policies or public health messages need to make healthier choices easier for everyone.

The harried parent whose child is reaching for chocolate at the check-out, the sedentary, minimum-wage worker who simply cannot afford fruit and vegetables or the children spending most of their time indoors.

The COVID pandemic might be occupying a nation now, but the obesity epidemic is looming large behind it.


Mitchell, R. (2021). Obesity epidemic is a crisis the nation must tackle. Retrieved 8 July 2021, from https://thewest.com.au/opinion/rhianna-mitchell-obesity-epidemic-looms-as-a-crisis-the-nation-must-tackle-ng-b881923817z 

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