Australia committee urges food reforms to tackle diabetes, obesity

An Australian parliamentary body is recommending a number of reforms in the food and drinks sphere to tackle rising cases of diabetes and obesity, particularly in children.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee has urged the government to reform the food-labelling system to create better awareness of the sugar content in food stuffs, as well as recommending a tax on sugary drinks.

It also wants more effective regulation of marketing and advertising for “unhealthy” foods targeted at children under the age of 16, along with additional funding for obesity screening and greater access to the diabetes and weight-loss GLP-1 drugs.

The Committee outlined a raft of measures to tackle the rise of chronic illness in Australia such as diabetes types 1 and 2, along with insulin resistance and “rare forms of diabetes associated with pancreatic damage or removal such as cystic fibrosis, post-surgical or rare genetic disorders”.

Prevention of such illnesses is the primary aim, involving all levels of government across Australia, the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport said in a 270-page document.

“Some of the policy recommendations will include improving access to healthy foods, using a reformulation levy to decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, limiting advertising of high-sugar and highly-processed foods, particularly to children, better urban planning to encourage increased physical activity and improved educational resources for our children about the dangers of diabetes,” it said.

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The Committee added: “It is of concern that the marketing of highly-processed food products for very young infants, e.g. pureed foods in sachets and toddler formulas, is rampant. Food labelling is opaque, unintelligible to most people without consideration of the long-term consequences.

“Urgent reform is required in advertising, marketing and community awareness. Dietary guidelines need to change.

“Self-regulation by the food industry and the ‘fast-food’ industry has not, and will not work, and our children are suffering the consequences.”

Low-carbohydrate diets were also emphasised as an importance area to combat all forms of diabetes, which the Committee said “need to be further promoted and evaluated”.

The Committee urged the government to initiate food-labelling reforms such as front-of-pack identification of the added sugar content, separate to other nutrition information labelling.

A tax on sugary drinks should be implemented and graded according to the levels of added sugar, the Committee recommended. Marketing and advertising of “unhealthy food” to children under 16 also needs to be better regulated through television, radio, online and gaming channels, it said.

The Committee also wants the Australian government to fund the development of an “education-based obesity screening” process and to expand the “eligibility criteria” for GLP-1 drugs.

“Increasingly, there is a huge burden being placed on health resources by people with type 2 diabetes and this is across virtually the entire health spectrum…” the Committee said.

“Children are being exposed to the risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes for many reasons, including a lack of access to a healthy diet, lack of exercise and poor availability of education about the risks of diabetes.”

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