RACP releases new position statement to tackle obesity

Doctors have warned that the obesity health crisis is increasing chronic diseases like diabetes and stronger preventative action is needed especially with children and young people.

The prevalence of obesity has increased rapidly in Australia and New Zealand with rates effectively doubling for adults and children between 1980 and 2013.

Discussing a new position statement during the 2018 Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Congress, doctors said children are developing obesity-related comorbidities earlier in life.

“This dramatic increase means that long-term conditions like type 2 diabetes, musculo-skeletal disorders and sleep apnoea are occurring younger and younger. These conditions usually flow over into adulthood creating life-long burdens and shorter life expectancies,” said Professor Boyd Swinburn who led the position statement.

In the new obesity position statement, the RACP calls for the Federal Government in Australia and the New Zealand government to make obesity prevention and treatment an urgent priority.

Health experts agree that there are several key actions that governments can take to address the obesity crisis. This includes:

  • Introducing a comprehensive national obesity prevention strategy
  • Implementing an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce consumption – using the revenue to fund initiatives that encourage healthy diets and physical activity
  • Restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and young people
  • Revising the Health Star Rating system’s nutrient profiling algorithm to give stronger weight to sugar content and making it mandatory by 2019
  • Improving equitable access to weight-loss surgery for patients with severe obesity.

The RACP statement also acknowledges the high level of weight bias in society, including within health systems and proposes ways to reduce this through its continuing education programs with physicians.

“We need to recognise obesity as a systemic and societal problem. It’s not simply a matter of personal choice and responsibility as it is often framed,” said Professor Swinburn.

“The underlying drivers of the obesity health crisis are the political, commercial, economic, and social systems that create the ‘obesogenic environment’ which promote the unhealthy weight gain.

“The food and beverage industry continues to advertise unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages in a way that directly targets children and adolescents and it’s clear that governments are not adequately regulating these marketing activities.

“Even the food environments in many schools and early childhood settings are creating unhealthy children. Governments only need to look at the recommendations from the World Health Organisation to find the cost-effective strategies to reduce childhood obesity.”

Boyd Swinburn FRACP is the Professor of Population Nutrition and Global Health at the University of Auckland and Alfred Deakin Professor at the Global Obesity Centre (a WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention) at Deakin University in Melbourne.

Read the RACP’s full obesity position statement on RACP website.

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