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Fat nation: the rise and fall of obesity on the political agenda

Phillip Baker writes in The Conversation (26.5.17) that obesity is a tough public health issue for governments to deal with, since there are a range of barriers to tackling it, some more obvious than others.

‘When we hear the word “obesity”, the words “crisis” or “epidemic” often follow. And as being overweight, obese and eating an unhealthy diet are leading contributors to disease in Australia, evidence is mounting that “tackling obesity” should be a political priority.

‘But obesity is a tough political challenge. Some have referred to it as “a test case for 21st century health policy” and as a “wicked problem”. That’s partly because there are many interconnected drivers of obesity, there is no “quick fix”, and because many stakeholders stand to win or lose from policy responses.

‘Obesity has risen and fallen on Australia’s political agenda. But unlike tobacco control policies, which included both legislative and non-legislative interventions, the federal government has gone for a “light touch” approach, including the voluntary Health Star Rating food labelling scheme, social marketing campaigns and school sports programs.

‘Many of these are important, even if flawed. But they are unlikely to resolve the problem without stronger regulatory controls on the marketing, labelling, content and pricing of energy-dense foods and beverages. Yet political priority for such regulation has been low.’

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