Tackling child obesity and climate change key to achieving sustainable healthcare - RACP

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The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) is calling on the Federal Government to prioritise the issues of childhood obesity and the health impacts of climate change in the upcoming budget, to secure a financially and environmentally sustainable health system.

The RACP’s pre-budget submission outlines the College’s key health policy priorities and recommendations for the government to address in the 2019/2020 Commonwealth budget.

RACP President, Associate Professor Mark Lane points to obesity and climate change as urgent and strategic priorities:

“Addressing childhood obesity and climate change are key to safeguarding the health system for Australia’s future. There are important steps in both these areas that must be taken now,” Associate Professor Lane said.

“If we ignore the immediate opportunities in these areas the health of Australians will suffer for decades to come.”

Professor Louise Baur, a RACP Fellow and Professor of Child and Adolescent Health at the University of Sydney, said the prevention and treatment of obesity should be an urgent priority for the Federal government, particularly identifying children at risk of obesity and related health conditions.

“Over the last three decades we have witnessed a huge jump in the obesity rates for children in Australia - from 1985, the percentage of children with obesity has increased from 3.5% to 7% in 2013,” said Prof Baur.

“The increase in childhood obesity is particularly concerning because children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults and are more likely to experience obesity-associated complications earlier in life.

“Obesity is associated with a range of serious health problems, including many non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure,” said Prof Baur.

“But rather than stigmatising individuals, we need to address key systemic issues and the powerful influences that are all around us, particularly those that target children.”

In their pre-budget submission, the RACP puts forward a number of recommendations for tackling the obesity epidemic, including:

  1. Implementing an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce consumption, with the revenue generated from the tax being re-invested into healthy food and education initiatives
  2. Committing appropriate funding to develop and implement the national strategy on obesity recently announced by Council of Australian Governments (COAG), with a focus on early childhood obesity
  3. Establishing a national taskforce including sustained funding, regular and ongoing monitoring and evaluation of key measures and regular reporting around targets.

The College has identified the impacts of climate change on human health and the health system as another key policy priority for promoting long-term sustainability in the health sector in the upcoming budget.

Associate Professor Linda Selvey, President of the RACP’s Faculty of Public Health Medicine and member of the College’s Climate Change and Health Reference Group, said climate change is one of the “biggest public health challenges in modern history and the government must act immediately to reduce the harms and risks of climate change and improve health outcomes for Australians, the region and the world.”

“We are already seeing Australians suffer the health impacts of climate change, including respiratory illnesses, diarrhoea, heat-related conditions and higher rates of suicide in rural areas during drought years,” said Associate Professor Selvey.

Recent record-breaking heatwaves have led to a high number of presentations at emergency departments for heat-related illness, similarly record-breaking rains and flooding in north Queensland have also resulted in hospital presentations. The rising incidence and severity of extreme weather events will place increasing strain on health services and personnel.

The RACP recommends that the government:

  1. Develop and implement a national climate and health strategy to reduce the risks of climate change to health and realise the health benefits of adaption and mitigation
  2. Establish a National Healthcare Environment Sustainability Unit to reduce the carbon footprint of the health sector.

Media contact: Bronte Kerr, 0411 676 269 – media@racp.edu.au

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