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Australian Senate Committee report on obesity

14 / 02 / 19

A select committee of the Australian Senate was established in May 2018 to investigate the problem of overweight and obesity in Australia and develop solutions to address the epidemic. One hundred and fifty one written submissions were received, and four public hearings conducted in Sydney and Melbourne. The committee completed their final report in December and made 22 recommendations, including:

  • Establish a national obesity task force and national obesity strategy
  • Update the Dietary Guidelines every 5 years
  • Change the HSR (Health Star Rating) system to address inconsistencies, including the current treatment of added sugar
  • Make the HSR mandatory by 2020, and show it on all forms of media advertising
  • Adopt mandatory labelling of added sugar on packaged foods and drinks
  • Mandate nutrition labelling on fast food menus
  • Introduce a sugar sweetened beverage tax
  • Restrict advertising of discretionary foods on (free) TV until 9pm
  • Add obesity to the list of diseases eligible for the Chronic Disease Management scheme
  • Develop a National Physical Activity Strategy

However, Labor senators on the committee filed a dissenting report rejecting four recommendations. They did not support a sugar tax because it would be regressive, meaning it would impact lower-income households disproportionately. They rejected a ban on advertising discretionary foods and drinks on free TV because children are viewing so much content on other platforms, and it would represent a burden to providers of free broadcasting services. They said there was a failure to adequately define discretionary food and drinks and also rejected showing the HSR on all forms of media advertising.

Where to now? It is not known what or how any of the recommendations will be taken forward. The process provided a good opportunity to voice opinions and consider the scientific evidence on obesity in Australia, and the report and submissions are worth a read. Otherwise, watch this space!

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