Technical Paper 1:
Obesity in Australia: a need for urgent action
3.2.9 - Working with industry
The contribution of Australian industry is a crucial component of the multi-sectoral response that is needed to tackle the obesity problem. The development of a comprehensive national obesity prevention strategy represents a unique opportunity to engage with the diverse areas of industry that need to be part of the solution.
Industry sectors have already demonstrated their willingness and ability to work in partnership with others to develop strategies and products that enhance the health of Australians. Industry can make an important contribution to population health through:
- The provision of information (for example, product and menu labelling and responsible marketing; the placement of healthy products in more prominent positions in supermarkets).
- Improving the food supply (for example, making healthier and affordable food products available).
- Developing a more environmentally sustainable food chain. The following examples demonstrate some of the ways industry can play an influential role in shaping the population’s health
Some members of the food industry are willing to cooperate with strategies aimed at achieving a healthier, affordable food supply, and have indicated this through, for example, new product development and reformulation of existing recipes (such as reductions in salt or using healthier oils for cooking). Other areas have been more contentious. The food industry has opposed regulation in the past, for example, in relation to food marketing to children. A set of seven principles (the ‘Sydney Principles’) was developed by an International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF) Working Group in 2006 to guide action on changing food and beverage marketing practices that target children. Each of the principles was supported by a wide group of stakeholders, including the food and advertising industries, but there was industry opposition to the third principle which called for a statutory approach.
This principle is based on the premise that industry self-regulation is not designed to ensure a high level of protection for children from targeted marketing and the negative impact that this has on their diets, and that only legally enforceable regulations have sufficient authority to achieve this goal.
Restaurant and catering industry
Restaurant associations are often opposed to regulatory measures that introduce point of sale menu labelling (i.e. where menu boards contain nutritional and energy content information). Reasons include the cost burden associated with nutritional analysis and updating menu boards, as well as concerns about loss of revenue if menu labelling curbs ordering. While it has been suggested that revenue shifting within and between restaurants is more likely to occur if menu labelling works as intended, there is currently a lack of evidence on this point.
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Weight loss industry
The weight loss industry in Australia is worth millions each year (for example, in 2002 young women aged 18–32 years were estimated to have spent almost $414 million per annum to manage their weight). There are a wide range of weight loss programs available, including commercial weight loss programs (such as pharmacy-based programs), internet-based programs, weight loss products (such as meal replacements) and community-based weight management or exercise groups. While these programs are popular, there is limited data on their effectiveness. To ensure that industry practices are safe and effective, there is a need to review weight loss industry programs and to develop a common code of practice for the industry, covering issues such as costs, counsellor training, and the marketing and promotion of services.