It's time we curbed our junk food addiction

OPINION

Last Friday we experienced our hottest day on record. The mercury kept rising through the morning, hitting a top of 45 degrees about 3pm.

I escaped to the cool sea about 4pm and noted the massing clouds to the south. The southerly was on its way.

It hit us two hours later with a blast of warm air that swirled and skidded around the township, whipping up leaves and takeaway detritus in its path.

The clean-up the next day spoke volumes about our diet – McDonald’s packages, styrofoam takeaway containers, butcher paper bearing the remnants of oily chips, waxed paper cups and a great huddle of soft drink bottles.

No wonder Australia is classified as one of the fattest nations in the world, with 14million of our population of 23.5million deemed overweight or obese.

It is forecast that if weight gain continues at current levels, by 2025 almost 80per cent of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese.

But it doesn’t end there. Obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness and is the biggest public health threat in Australia.

Our extremely poor diet cops most of the blame. Last year Australians spent more than $37million on takeaway food – the equivalent of 343 Whopper burgers for every man, woman and child. 

But should we blame the fast food industry? As Jennie Brand-Miller, a professor of human nutrition at Sydney University says: “Fast food is a response not a cause. McDonald’s don’t care if they sell water or soft drink, as long as they make a profit.”

So how to curb this addiction to fast food; how to get the message through that a high-fat, high-sugar diet is going to kill people?

Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf from the highly successful anti-tobacco campaign, including showing graphic pictures of the health risks (diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and sleep apnoea) and the extremely poor lifestyle options of the morbidly obese.  

Add to this cocktail colour-coded warning labels on all takeaway food that highlight the kilojoule, fat and sugar levels.

 A vigorous discussion on the air waves about weight-loss surgery last week fed into the obesity debate. The discussion was prompted by two strands of news: 

• That shadow treasurer Joe Hockey had gastric bypass surgery before Christmas and has shed an amazing 20kilograms; and

• The publication of a study by Monash University of the long-term outcomes of weight-loss surgery, which revealed patients maintained an average weight loss of 26 kilograms almost a decade after going under the knife.

Much of the radio discussion centred on a call for public funding of this surgery, which is presently denied. Phillip from Wollongong recounted his experience. He had a gastric bypass in November and has since lost 36kilograms. 

He prematurely dipped into his superannuation to fund the $25,000 operation, stating: “The way I was going, I wasn’t going to see my super anyway.”

Certainly the success of bariatric surgery goes hand-in-hand with a change of diet and more exercise, so motivation to keep the kilos off is essential.

But we need to get the message across that fast food is a fast way to die before people reach this critical stage.

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