What can governments do to tackle childhood obesity, perhaps one of the world’s most significant health threats? It’s a tough question given that so many forces combine to stack the kilos on kids, and because it takes time to develop an evidence base about what measures work on what is a relatively new epidemic.
But thanks to a two-year project involving federal and state health bureaucrats and researchers, we now have some preliminary answers to that question, and about how to get the most bounce for our obesity prevention dollars.
Unfortunately, the measure announced in last night’s budget — extra funding for the mainstay of the Government’s childhood obesity initiatives, the Active After School Communities Program — is not recommended.
The program is likely to be ineffective, may even be counterproductive, and is unlikely to be sustainable, according to the experts’ assessment. Their findings suggest that if the Government really wants to make an impact on childhood obesity, it would ban advertising of fast food outlets and sweet, fatty foods during children’s TV viewing hours.
But this approach, while likely to be extremely effective, is “currently politically unacceptable,” the report noted. Boyd Swinburn, Professor of Population Health at Deakin University in Melbourne and one of the report’s authors, is not remotely impressed by the budget announcement.
The Government is spending a lot on a “single, low priority, low impact project,” he says. It’s another reminder why so much of the rhetoric about the importance of evidence-based health policy has a decidedly hollow ring.