Childhood Obesity

About this Item
SubjectsChildren; Health; Food
SpeakersChesterfield-Evans The Hon Dr Arthur

Page: 22355

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [6.30 p.m.]: The front page of the Sydney Morning Herald of 22 April 2006 trumpeted the headline "The Shocking Truth of Childhood Obesity". Perhaps it was a shock to some, but most people with half a brain know that a diet of junk food leads to obesity. It is interesting that the health force has spent years trying to prove the obvious about junk food and now it is news. The first furphy peddled by junk food manufacturers is that children are getting fat because they are exercising less, watching more television and playing more computer games and therefore it is not their fault. The fact that the children buy the advertised junk food and are getting fatter is not considered.

    The other peddled furphy is that obesity is the responsibility of parents but it is the advertisers who place advertisements in the middle of children's television viewing times. All parents know it is very difficult to stop determined children who demand things. Whilst statements of the obvious about childhood obesity are treated as news, and commonsense appears to have disappeared, the real tragedy is the change in paradigm and how, rather than assume that fattening food makes one fat, we now have to prove it. Rather than having the manufacturers disprove the obvious as they sell fattening food, the health force now has to amass an immense argument, after a large per cent of children have already become fat, in order to take any action against free marketeers who make money from selling junk food, while we pick up the cost of diabetes and obesity.

    The Hon. Don Harwin: That is the nanny state.

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: This comes as no surprise to me as I have lived through a similar situation in my 25-year-fight against tobacco companies. I am old enough to remember the shock and outrage—the "nanny state" arguments, to pick up the interjection of the Hon. Don Harwin—when it became mandatory to advise people that smoking was likely to kill them. I was in Melbourne when the tobacco industry said that if we tried to increase the warnings, it would put its case to Cabinet and we would fail, and that proved to be the case. It took years for that legislation to be passed. Since that time many research papers have shown the harm caused by tobacco and proof had to be shown that both tobacco and passive smoking killed. It was obvious but it took years, and during that time people died.

    When the files of the tobacco companies were finally made public during the late 1990s it was revealed that the findings were old news to the tobacco companies. Publicly funded eminent researchers who produced mountains of paper were asked at the 1990 World Conference on Tobacco and Health whether they had wasted their lives doing research when the answer was already known, they looked sheepish and realised they had.

    Smoking is the most researched health subject in the world and the guilty verdict has been in for decades, yet this Parliament still does nothing about it. We are now faced with the same situation with junk food. It is argued that advertisements that portray fattening food as glamorous, eaten by a lovely model in small amounts, do not cause obesity. The idea is that people have choices and can choose to eat fattening foods. This puts the responsibility entirely on consumers rather than on the people who engineered them to make that choice.

    We hear about the responsibility of parents to do the right thing. It is about as difficult to avoid junk food advertising as it is to breathe smoke-free air in a hotel. Like the tobacco companies in the early eighties, junk food companies are merely interested in long-term payoffs and they are willing to invest in children's sporting activities as a way to improve their brand recognition. Rothmans set up the Rothmans Sport Foundation and sponsored children's athletics and paid for coaches with Rothmans uniforms. A Rothmans memo, found in a garbage bin by non-smokers in the 1970s, said the reason for the Rothmans Sport Foundation was to get around advertising bans.

    Now McDonald's sponsors Little Athletics and Coca-Cola sponsors soccer and rugby league. The Boy Scouts use Krispy Kreme doughnuts for fundraising campaigns because they get more profit from selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts than from selling chocolate bars. We need to look squarely at the issues that Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions [BUGA-UP] addressed in the early eighties, namely the rights of advertisers to say whatever they like without any consideration of the public health consequences of their actions. Consumers have to get more power and it is time they said so. [Time expired.]