The federal government National Obesity Strategy 2022-2032 Better late than never, but it lacks clear direction and ignores an existing model that was ripe for implementation, says a leading social health expert.
Dr Michelle Jones of Flinders University says the plan, released last month by the meeting of health ministers, appears to have taken into account some of the lessons learned from the Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle (OPAL) programme. ; an Australian, state and local government funded program piloted in South Australia that was beginning to bring real change to local communities before funding was withdrawn.
“For almost ten years, the OPAL program has been run in South Australia, with the program designed to encourage local communities to implement strategies that improve the eating habits and physical activity levels of children through their families and the community, says Dr. Jones, who has evaluated the OPAL program in detail for several years.
The integrative context-process-outcome evaluation of the program found that it worked, with a demonstrated reduction in childhood obesity through the modification of environments. However, one of the biggest issues was the sustainability of the program, as without continued funding not all activities could be sustained.
Dr. Michelle Jones, Flinders University
The OPAL program has been funded by Australian, state and local governments and program implementation has taken place locally, responding to identified local needs, including community-based programs to encourage healthy eating and environmental improvements to promote sustainability. physical activity, such as walking trails, bike paths and play. equipment.
“While this new framework addresses the importance of creating supportive, sustainable and healthy environments, it misses some key pillars of the OPAL program that have enabled its success and raises the question: where will the money come from?” said Dr. Jones.
“With OPAL, there was an existing model that the Australian government could have implemented and committed to funding to ensure its longevity, but instead we are getting a piecemeal approach and no clear understanding of who will coordinate the strategy. and who will pay for it.”
Dr Jones also pointed to other shortcomings of the 10-year plan, including its overreliance on individual responsibility and the lack of legislation that would help bridge the advertising gap between big fast food makers and local food suppliers.
“Preventing obesity isn’t as simple as telling people to lose weight or get out and exercise. It ignores the socio-economic factors that underlie people’s health and underestimates the impact of the advertising industry and its ability to influence people’s choices,” said Dr. Jones.
“We currently have large food companies, especially fast food companies, able to advertise at any time of the day and target children and at the same time, representatives of fruit and vegetable producers cannot match this power of advertising. buying advertising; this imbalance could be changed by legislation, rather than hopeful thinking.
“The health impacts of obesity are greater than those of alcohol and smoking, both of which are heavily restricted in terms of advertising. We should have laws that say what ads can be shown when, how Food is packaged for children, and we should subsidize our local fresh food suppliers to help them advertise and ensure people are encouraged to make healthier food choices.
The National Obesity Strategy 2022-2032 can be viewed here: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/national-obesity-strategy-2022-2032