The introduction of a national sugar tax and targeted state-wide restrictions on junk food advertising, are just some of the measures being recommended by the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue in its new Discussion Paper, Western Sydney’s Heavy Issue: A Five Point Plan to Tackle Obesity.
Dialogue Executive Director, Adam Leto, said the paper, deliberately timed for release during the lead-up to the Federal Election, was primarily aimed at highlighting the significant ‘obesity deficit’ that exists in Greater Western Sydney and the need for urgent political intervention, before the obesity epidemic gets worse.
“More than two thirds of Western Sydney is either overweight or obese, which is above the national average, and the flow-on health, social and economic costs are rising markedly,” Mr Leto said.
“The introduction of a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, in isolation, is not the sole answer when it comes to solving what we understand is a deep, and complex issue,” he said.
“But as part of an integrated suite of measures, it can have an impact, as we have seen in other places around the world. What we can’t afford to do is sit back and say it’s just too hard – and leading up to the Federal Election, there is an opportunity for our political representatives to show some leadership and make this is one of their top policy priorities.”
Mr Leto said that in addition to some of the more complex recommendations listed in the report, such as the national sugar tax, there were some “quick wins” that could make a difference, such as imposing junk food advertising restrictions on state-owned public transport assets, similar to what has been introduced in other states, including most recently, Queensland.
“This is an issue that is affecting all Australians, but when you look at the figures in Western Sydney, you can’t help but be concerned,” he said.
“People who live in Western Sydney are more likely to struggle with obesity than elsewhere in Sydney – they have limited access to fresh and healthier food options, their cities are less walkable than most other parts of Sydney and more than 50 percent of the population has, or is at risk of acquiring Type 2 Diabetes,” Mr Leto said.
“We recognise the introduction of a sugar tax is going to be a challenge, but there are also a number of relatively simpler measures, from the way we design our cities, through to a universal, compulsory health-star rating, that can also deliver improved health outcomes.”
Last month, the Dialogue ran a forum focusing on understanding and addressing the cost of poor health and social disadvantage in the region, attended by a range of health experts, including Professor Glen Maberly, Director Western Sydney Diabetes, Tom Nance, Manger Policy and Programs, Western Sydney Community Forum, and Wendy Watson, Nutrition Program Manager of the Cancer Council NSW, who all agreed that the health of people living in Western Sydney demanded higher prioritisation by the Government.
Mr Leto added that both Western Sydney Local Health District, South Western Sydney Local Health District and Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District had taken a pro-active approach when it came to both raising awareness, and developing programs aimed at improving the obesity and diabetes epidemic in the region.
“Health professionals, business and families all need support from our political decision makers,” Mr Leto said.
“We need to develop a partnership approach to tackle this issue head-on - one that has community, industry and political buy-in - if we’re serious about getting results.”
Key parts of the report’s 5 Point Plan to tackle obesity are:
Junk food advertising restrictions across the Sydney Trains network and for public transport on school routes
A sugar tax on sweetened drinks
Improving urban planning for health
Reforming health star rating system
Incentives for physical activities
THE KEY STATISTICS:
Sydneysiders living in the Western Sydney or Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Areas (PHA) are on average 12.5 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than those living in the Central and Eastern Sydney or Northern Sydney areas
GWS is home to the Sydney Local School Areas with the five highest rates of obesity among Sydney schoolchildren
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, who are disproportionately represented in parts of Greater Western Sydney, are 1.6 times more likely to be obese.
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