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EDITORIAL: Political debate over junk food

ONE of the most extraordinary things about Greg and Sylvia Ray’s 2010 book of photographs, Newcastle, The Missing Years, was the obvious contrasts it revealed betweenthe slim and wiry Novocastrians of the between-wars years, and the battle of the bulge weighing all toomany of us down today.
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No matter how we carve up the figures, 21stcentury Australians are increasingly overweight, shaped by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a diet that relies all too heavily on processed and packaged foods.

Sadly, it has been the Newcastle Herald’s melancholy duty to report that things are as bad in some parts of the Hunter as they are anywhere in the country. The Australian Medical Association recently putthenational cost of obesity at almost $7 billion a year, and as various studies and surveys have shown, the problem is worse, on average, in areas of lower socio-economic advantage.

In simple terms, the richer you are, the healthier and thinner you are likely to be. There are exceptions of course, but when “big data” is crunched in the name of population health, the trends are undeniable. And they are only getting worse.

In Canberra this week, nutritional experts have been pushing the federal government to do more to convince Australians to eat less, but with limited success. An organisation known as the Obesity Policy Coalition –whose members include the Cancer Council and Diabetes Australia –has restated the case for a tax on sugar, but the initial response from the major parties has been less than enthusiastic.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson would have echoed the thoughts of many when she said it was up to the individual to take responsibility for what they put in their mouths. But if this logic had been applied to tobacco, then Australia would never have begun taxing tobacco in the ways that it did, leaving to massive and probably permanent drops in smoking rates. In a similar light, some argue that refined sugar is more of a poisonthan a nutrient, but as many foods are broken down to glucose in our systems, the evidence is perhaps less than clear cut. In reality, we are the shape we are for a variety of reasons, and diet is only one of them. The state does have a role in protecting us as consumers, but we, too, have our own responsibilities, especially when it comes to the food choices of our children.

In the meantime, why not join the crowd on Bathers Way, andwalk some weight off?

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