The Australian medical Association is increasing its pressure on governments to ban the advertising of junk food and sugary drinks to children.
It also wants a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages “as a matter of priority.” Its call has been echoed by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).
Releasing the AMA’s ‘Position Statement on Nutrition 2018’, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said that eating habits and attitudes toward food are established in early childhood.
“Improving the nutrition and eating habits of Australians must become a priority for all levels of government,” he said.
“Governments should consider the full complement of measures available to them to support improved nutrition, from increased nutrition education and food literacy programs through to mandatory food fortification, price signals to influence consumption, and restrictions on food and beverage advertising to children.
“Eating habits and attitudes start early, and if we can establish healthy habits from the start, it is much more likely that they will continue throughout adolescence and into adulthood. The AMA is alarmed by the continued and targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children.
“Children are easily influenced, and this marketing, which takes place across all media platforms, from radio and television to online, social media, and apps – undermines healthy food education and makes eating junk food seem normal.
“The AMA believes that advertising and marketing unhealthy food and drink to children should be prohibited, and that the loophole that allows children to be exposed to junk food and alcohol advertising during coverage of sporting events must be closed.
“The food industry claims to subscribe to a voluntary code, but the reality is that this kind of advertising is increasing. The AMA calls on the food industry to stop this practice immediately.”
The AMA’s Position Statement also calls for increased nutrition education and support to be provided to new or expecting parents, and notes that good nutrition during pregnancy is also vital.
It says that eating habits can be affected by practices at institutions such as child care centres, schools, hospitals, and aged care homes.
“Whether people are admitted to hospital or just visiting a friend or family member, they can be very receptive to messages from doctors and other health workers about healthy eating,” Dr Gannon said.
“Hospitals and other health facilities must provide healthy food options for residents, visitors, and employees. Vending machines containing sugary drinks and unhealthy food options should be removed from all health care settings, and replaced with machines offering only healthy options.
“Water should be the default beverage option, including at fast food restaurants in combination meals where soft drinks are typically provided as the beverage.”
Key Recommendations in the Position Statement include:
- Advertising and marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children to be prohibited.
- Water to be provided as the default beverage option, and a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to be introduced.
- Healthy foods to be provided in all health care settings, and vending machines containing unhealthy food and drinks to be removed.
- Better food labelling to improve consumers’ ability to distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars.
- Regular review and updating of national dietary guidelines and associated clinical guidelines to reflect new and emerging evidence.
- Continued uptake of the Health Star Rating system, as well as refinement to ensure it provides shoppers with the most pertinent information.
The AMA Position Statement on Nutrition 2018 is available here.
The PHAA says A health levy on sugar-sweetened beverages is a necessary part of a broader national nutrition strategy to reduce obesity and disease. It also says that it is essential that revenue raised is directed effectively toward preventive health programs.
Michael Moore, CEO of the PHAA said: “The PHAA advocates for a health levy on sugar-sweetened beverages because the evidence shows it is an effective way to influence consumer purchasing behaviour away from these unhealthy drinks.
“There is much more awareness now of the damage which sugary drinks inflict on their consumers’ health, such as their direct correlation with obesity and the development of Type 2 Diabetes. While there has been an attempt at the message of consuming these discretionary foods and beverages in moderation, it has been ineffective in significantly reducing excessive consumption of sugary drinks.”
He said that 26 countries have already implemented a health levy on sugary drinks.” A similar approach would be a substantial step forward for Australia to take to tackle soaring rates of obesity and associated non-communicable diseases.
“Australia is much more focused on the issues of obesity and poor nutrition as a health priority now, and we would like to see government measures and funding directed accordingly. The evidence is clear that action on reducing harms of unhealthy commodities includes not only price increases for harmful products, but also restricting advertising and marketing and their overall availability.”
In its response to the 2017 National Health Budget in May last year, the PHAA called for an increase in prevention funding, which currently sits at just 1.5 percent of overall health expenditure.
“There is an estimation that a price increase on sugar-sweetened beverages in Australia would generate more than $500 million a year. If this were targeted directly toward preventive health measures aimed at improving nutrition and physical activity levels among Australians, it would save lives,” Mr Moore said.
“It’s time the price of unhealthy foods and drinks reflect the true health costs associated with their consumption.”
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