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Healthy food campaign essential

Bronywn Herbert reported this story on Thursday, August 27, 2009 12:26:00

ELEANOR HALL: Members of Australia's preventative health taskforce say that a market failure in the
food sector has contributed to the alarming rate of obesity in the country.

One health economist says a federal government funded health campaign is the only way to counter
industry misinformation on the dangers of fat and sugar.

Taskforce members are also suggesting that the Government look at issuing healthy food vouchers to
poorer Australians as Bronwyn Herbert reports.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Australia's obesity statistics make for heavy reading. Close to three in every 10
children are classed as overweight or obese and more than seven million adults tip the scales as
overweight.

One member of the Federal Government's preventative health taskforce says a government funded
campaign to counter industry misinformation is what's needed.

LEONIE SEGAL: You know we haven't really had major advertising campaigns around that are empty
calories around sugars or fats so I think there is an enormous amount that we can do.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Leonie Segal is a professor of health economics and policy from the University of
South Australia.

After 15 months of work the taskforce team tabled its findings to the Federal Government in June
but the Heath Minister hasn't yet released the results.

Professor Segal says a campaign against bad food is very important.

LEONIE SEGAL: Something like cigarettes which took really quite a long campaign and a very
intensive campaign to explain to people the impacts on their health of cigarettes and whereas food
is just enormously complex in terms of the balance of meeting the nutritional needs and not getting
too much sugar and fats.

And essentially the market can't work well unless people have good information, not only about the
choices out there but how their choices will affect their health - not just today but in the
future.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Professor Segal concedes it's a tough job for the Government to weigh in on food
marketing.

LEONIE SEGAL: The difficulty is that there is not really a major profit interest in individual
companies providing people with high quality information. I mean essentially companies not
surprisingly come from their own vested interests. So we always need to have a role of government
which is to make the markets work better which basically means ensuring people have high quality
information.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The Australian Food and Grocery Council declined to speak with The World Today on
these issues.

Task force members have also suggested that the Government look at issuing healthy food vouchers to
poorer Australians, as reported by News Limited today.

Rob Moodie chairs the task force team and is a professor of global health at the University of
Melbourne.

ROB MOODIE: The point I guess about looking at food vouchers, it comes in a sort of whole category
of what are the incentives that you can use for increasing healthy food and what are the sort of
disincentives that you can use to decrease consumption of unhealthy food.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Professor Moodie says there's been over 400 submissions to the health task force,
canvassing a whole range of ways to improve Australians' health.

ROB MOODIE: How we can fundamentally increase the supply of healthy food, make healthy food
cheaper, discourage unhealthy food promotion; in a sense moving us as a nation towards healthier
food and towards in this case obviously greater exercise if we are talking about obesity.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Professor Segal has published economic statistics on the effectiveness of using
vouchers to manage chronic disease.

LEONIE SEGAL: You'd actually provide them for vouchers for services which might be things like
diabetes educators - say someone with diabetes - dietician services, podiatry services. So it is
really a way of in a sense using the market to both help inform people and help them access the
services they need to improve their health. And I think vouchers could be used in a whole range of
contexts.

BRONWYN HERBERT: A spokeswoman for the Health Minister says the task force's report will be
released in the near future.

ELEANOR HALL: Bronwyn Herbert reporting.