Vol 12, Issue 7
Australia is not a premier nation. Melbourne is a great city, the most liveable in the world. But we don't rank in the top ten in Mathematics, we don't have many Booker prize winners, nor is our GDP gargantuan. It's not all bad, we don't rank highly in murders, kidnappings or wealth disparity, so let's take the good with the bad.
However, we can rest our national ego in the comforting knowledge that Australia has been the top of one list: the fastest growing level of obesity on Earth.
But you, dear reader and student of MLS, wouldn't know it by looking. Few and far between are the overweight students in each lecture seminar theatre, despite making up a sound majority of the population. Though this is largely due to demographics. Law students are, by and large, rich. The overweight, not so much.
This excess fat is a costly problem, with expenditure on obesity related illness estimated at $58 billion in 2008.
A large reason for this is the proliferation of fast food and fast food advertising. Australia has some of the most lax food advertising laws in the world, with a lot of it being fast food advertising during prime time viewing, children inches from the screen being indoctrinated in the creed of however many herbs and spices they claim is still in their fried chicken.
Smoking, thanks to an aggressive campaign led from all sides by legislators and government bodies, is on the decline.
So we look to government for guidance. It has been severely lacking in this capacity. There is scant talk of a sugar tax occasionally and a lot spent on awareness campaigns, but it seems ineffective to combat this growing (pun intended) problem.
Key to this is our understanding of diet. I spent my summer reading the works of Gary Taubes, who argues against the commonly held belief that dietary fat is bad. Numerous sources back this up. Further, he argues that a diet low in carbohydrates and high in proteins and natural fats is a good thing. Again, he is merely the messenger, floating on a raft of credible sources.
But where is this reflected in our Australian food regulation? It’s largely ignored. While the Heart Foundation's (now defunct) tick oversaw a decline in trans fat consumption, it barely dented the occurrence of heart disease and stood idly by as obesity rates went through the roof. Its inception led to tinkering by fast food companies to create a “balanced” product that, despite being a McDonald's burger, was tick worthy.
This was because they stood firm in their belief that the 1961 claims of American Ancel Keys on dietary fat leading to heart disease and a swath of other health conditions were correct. Keys later denounced his own findings, but governments didn't care, they couldn't care. They'd already told people what they needed to buy, now it was time to sit down and eat it.
Therein lies the rub: for a government body to appear legitimate, its health claims can't be seen as faulty. The public interest is not served by sceptics or competing scientific models. In order to convince the public one way is right, they must ensure all other methodologies don't see the light of day.
Politicians long ago hand balled the managing of public health to bodies such as the Food Standards Australian New Zealand, because the science is moving too quickly and intensively for them to handle. But these bodies, in their stubbornness, have dropped the ball. They have not performed their duty in keeping the public up to date with health information, and they show no signs of starting now. These men, and they are largely men, dig in their heels and blame consumer choice and weak wills. Though I'm sure if you asked the overweight, none would say they made a choice.
Why is there no outcry about this? We grow heavier by the day. Why is there not one senator talking about the obesity epidemic, why no protests outside the state library? On the contrary, I rarely go past a weekend protest without seeing a rallier with a Coke in hand like some Southern Hemisphere, Kendall Jenner wannabe.
Not many governments have gone after the big boys, and with obesity killing more citizens than WA shark attacks, I would be surprised. Why don't they? I can't say for sure.
The only thing that I can report with any accuracy is that McDonald's spends a lot on advertising.
Nick Parry-Jones is a Third Year, Overweight, Law Student
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