Obesity is a key advocacy priority to improve public health. Obesity was declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization in 1997. Obesity was described as a pandemic in 2011 and a global syndemic subsequently.

The problem affects a large proportion of the Australian population;
2/3rds of West Australian adults are overweight or obese and the rate is rising
1/4 of West Australian children aged 2-17 years are experiencing overweight or obese
18 million Australian adults will be living with overweight or obesity by 2030.
Obesity cost Australia $8.6 billion in 2011-12 and is set to rise to $21 billion by 2025.

Despite efforts to ‘Act on Australia’s Weight’ since the 1980’s, the drivers of excess weight gain are getting stronger and more insidious, particularly when it comes to food. Ultra-processed foods, developed and heavily marketed by the food industry, add to their profits but are making Australians sick. Countries increasingly look to Governments to set the parameters (through policies, regulations and interventions) to hold food and beverage industries to account to protect the health and wellbeing of the community.

A strong advocacy voice is needed to realise the key actions needed to curb the rates of obesity.

PHAIWA facilitated the 2008 WA Obesity Forum, a consensus-led process with key experts and stakeholders from relevant sectors to set 12 Obesity Advocacy Targets.

PHAIWA reviewed the targets with the 2019 Obesity Forum. The WA landscape has evolved and a number of important policy initiatives have developed. The goal was to build consistent obesity-prevention policy and advocacy in WA across sectors, non-Government and at all levels of Government and the community.

PHAIWA assessed the obesity prevention work in WA, prepared a Snapshot of the evidence then selected 5 evidence-informed advocacy themes not currently being led by other organisations:
• Improving nutrition for children
• Improving nutrition for Aboriginal People, particularly those living in regional and remote communities
• Promoting fruit and vegetable consumption
• Removing fast food sponsorship from sport
• Improving food labelling and food literacy

Thought-provoking keynote presentations provided food for thought for the discussions across each theme: (Dr Katherine Cullerton – University of Queensland, Dr Roslyn Giglia – Foodbank WA,  Prof Anna Peeters –  Deakin University, Christina Matthews – CEO of the Western Australian Cricket association, Kelly Mowarin – Nirrumbuk Environmental Health & Services Australia).

PHAIWA endorsed advocates guided discussions with 80 invited experts working in obesity prevention in WA. Ten top targets for each theme were selected during the day long workshop and refined by PHAIWA in consultation with participants. Note: the term food includes beverages.

2019 Obesity Advocacy Targets: Food Focus

PHAIWA Projects and Resources

Soft Drink Consumption in Aboriginal Communities

High consumption of soft drinks and other sugary drinks are associated with a number of health problems, including overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and dental caries. In Australia, soft drinks are the most commonly consumed sugary beverage and have been singled out for specific attention as a target of obesity prevention programs. The evidence linking soft drinks consumption to overweight and obesity is now strong.

Nearly two years ago, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin ordered two departments to give urgent advice about how to encourage people in the remote areas to consume less soft drink. One of the policy responses has been to install water bubblers in Aboriginal communities.

PHAIWA together with Diabetes WA is embarking on a project to investigate the extent of the soft drink consumption problems amongst Aboriginal peoples and identify additional policy solutions.

Who owns who in the Australian food Australian food market?

Read Dr Melissa Stoneham and Ainslie Sartori’s latest blog on Croakey on the recently released food map by PHAIWA here.

Healthy Vending Machines

PHAIWA has commenced a project to identify how best to support local governments to reduce unhealthy options in vending machines. Vending machines which are notorious for sugary drinks, salty snacks and fat laden chocolate bars are often located in Council owned Recreation Facilities, among other settings. Improving the nutrition and eating habits of Australians must become a priority for all levels of government.  Small changes such as simple product substitutions can make a big difference. We are advocating for water to be the default beverage option in vending machines. We are working with local governments to ensure that if obesity or healthy weight is identified as a priority in public health planning processes, they have the information needed to ensure their vending machines contain healthy options.

PHAIWA on Today Tonight on Surviving ‘Pester Power’

PHAIWA’S Dr Mel Stoneham spoke to Channel 7’s Today Tonight with tips for parents on how to survive ‘pester power’ in supermarkets.

See the clip here.

What’s cheaper?

We have done the math and worked out the cost of a McDonald’s meal for a family of 6 compared to the price of a home cooked meal. See the results for yourself in the link below.


Political Considerations

Healthy Choices in Health Care Facilities

In May 2018, Health Minister Roger Cook instructed State hospitals to ensure half of food options in outlets and vending machines were healthy and that less than 20 per cent was junk food. He told the Budget estimates hearing that none of WA’s health facilities met the current Government’s policy and that the same standard should be met by government buildings, including train stations, departmental headquarters and entertainment venues.

For information on healthier vending machines go to – https://healthierworkplacewa.com.au/media/3661/healthier-vending-machines.pdf

Childhood Obesity

A whole of government target for reducing childhood obesity has been muted. The Sustainable Health Review listed prevention as the number one priority in its list of preliminary directions, saying the state needed to “keep people healthy and get serious about prevention” and recommended the State Government ‘immediately take a leadership role in development of whole-of-government targets, commencing with childhood obesity’. A Preventive Health Summit on March 2 2018, addressed obesity as a priority alongside alcohol harm reduction.

Call for a Sugar Tax

WA Health Minister Roger Cook has advocated to Canberra to impose a tax on sugary drinks, arguing it is desperately needed to fight Australia’s obesity crisis, saying such a tax will force manufacturers to have less sugar content in products or increase prices, which will lead to a cut in consumption. Minister Cook stated that a levy on (sugar-sweetened beverages) would be likely to deliver the greatest health benefits to those groups most at risk of associated harms, such as young people and lower-income groups. PHAIWA supports a sugar tax on SSBs.

The Obesity Policy Coalition – Tipping The Scales Infographic

The Obesity Coalition has launched a new campaign called Tipping the Scales to address Australia’s serious obesity problem. To find out more visit Obesity Policy Coalition.

Facts of the Matter – Obesity is not just about personal responsibility

The Obesity Collective have prepared key message responses to common arguments about obesity. You can view this documenthere.

Live Lighter

PHAIWA supports the Live Lighter campaign, which aims to:

▲Increase awareness of the link between being overweight and chronic disease, while promoting healthy eating and regular physical activity.

▲Increase understanding of the risks associated with poor lifestyle choices.

▲Support the trial, adoption and maintenance of healthy eating, physical activity and healthy weight.

▲Encourage public debate about obesity and the need for changes in the community to support healthy eating and physical activity. We need to make sure the healthy choice is also the easy choice.

In April 2016 the most recent campaign focusing on junk food was launched. This campaign urges people to rethink junk food in a graphic new advertising campaign that adds fatty liver disease to the menu of serious health risks.

You can calculate how much junk food you eat and view the TV advertisements at the LiveLighter website. This is an example of some of the resources available.

Of interest, one of the strategies in this campaign was advertising at service stations – which was very quickly knocked on the head by Val Morgan, who manages this space. After some advocacy from the Heart Foundation, this decision has been reversed. Read about it here.

Visit the LiveLighter website for facts, tips, recipes and resources at https://livelighter.com.au/

Australian Health Star Rating (HSR) Front-of-Pack Labelling System

The Australian Health Star Rating (HSR) front-of-pack labelling system is now running across the country. The Health Star Rating system was developed by the Australian, state and territory governments in collaboration with industry, public health and consumer groups.  The labelling scheme aims to help shoppers easily compare similar packaged foods to help them make healthier choices based on the number of stars and the other descriptors below.

The Health Star Rating system has been operational since June 2014. Adoption of the system is voluntary for the next five years, and progress will be reviewed after two years. A new campaign promoting the Health Star Rating is being run June-August 2015.

Key Messages

What do the stars mean?

¡ Health Star Ratings provide an easy, standard way for consumers to compare the nutritional profile of similar packaged foods, at-a-glance.

¡ The Health Star Rating graphic can be displayed on the front of packaged food products.

¡ The Health Star Rating system provides at-a-glance nutritional information to help consumers make informed and healthier food choices that can lead to better health.

How to use the Health Star Rating system?

Stars are calculated by assessing the amount of energy, saturated fat, sugars, sodium, fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content as well as dietary fibre and protein.

A high Health Star Rating does not necessarily mean that the food provides all of the essential nutrients that are required for a balanced and healthy diet.

To help maintain a healthy lifestyle, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from the five food groups every day and to limit foods that are high in saturated fat, added sodium and sugars.

Useful information and resources about the Health Star Rating system is available on the Health Star website.

Please click here to read a report from Victoria Health which looks at the life transition period between childhood and adolescence, and the critical windows of opportunity to influence healthy behaviour.

Guide to Food Labelling

Food labels carry information that will help you to make good food choices. Visit this page provided by Vic Health to make it easier for you to understand food labels.

Food and Health Ministers to Implement Star Ratings on Foods

PHAIWA welcomes the decision by Food and Health Ministers to implement a star rating scheme that will enable consumers to make healthier choices at-a-glance.

The Federal government is set to introduce a star system for food packages to help consumers make healthier food choices. Much like the energy star rating system on white goods, the proposed star system for food labels will see healthier choices carrying more stars than less healthy choices.
The star ratings give an overall indication of a food’s nutritional quality and will appear on the front of food packages. There will be additional information about the key nutrients that consumers want to know about and are associated with diet-related disease: sugars, saturated fat, sodium and kilojoules.

The introduction of an easy-to-understand food labelling system was a key recommendation of the 2011 Blewett review of food labelling. Recently, public health experts, consumer groups, representatives from the food and retail industries, and state and territory governments have participated in a Commonwealth-led process aimed at developing a front-of-pack food labelling system that could be applied nationwide.
At the Food and Health Ministers meeting on Friday 27 June 2014, the Ministers imposed a timeframe on the implementation of the labelling scheme which, in the first instance, will be voluntary. This puts the onus on industry to embrace the Health Star Rating or face a mandatory approach. The Ministers also voted to reinstate the star rating website.

You can read the communique from the Ministers meeting here.

Here is an example of the star rating.

Preventing Obesity … What works? A Review of Research Evidence

CEIPS has conducted a review of systematic reviews examining the effectiveness of interventions targeting physical activity, healthy eating, sedentary behaviour and obesity.  Please view it here.


Livelighter Urges People to Stop Drinking Themselves Fat

On July 19 LiveLighter unveiled their new anti-obesity campaign targeting sugary drinks.  There was an event held on Friday at the Boulevard Centre in Floreat to celebrate the launch, which happened a day prior to a LiveLighter wrap-around spread being placed in Saturday’s edition of The West Australian and the broadcast of a primetime LiveLighter television commercial. The campaign hopes to raise public awareness of the large role sugar sweetened drinks have in contributing to obesity and to ultimately reduce consumption of beverages such as soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks.

LiveLighter’s media statement is available here.

An info graphic comparing the amount of sugar in different drinks and foods can be read here.

WA Health Article

Who is overweight and obese in Western Australia?

Advertising as a cue to consume: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of acute exposure to unhealthy food and nonalcoholic beverage advertising on intake in children and adults

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Infographic can be accessed here.