Many people seem to be fairly cynical about the 2020 Summit and what it might (or might not) achieve. As one who has accepted the invitation to participate, I have decided to ditch my usual cynicism because I believe we have a government who might just listen to us.

My particular beef is that we have virtually ignored preventative health measures and especially any related to the field of nutrition. We have reams of reports and we’ve had endless talk fests about what we might do. Experts in the field have looked at the problem and are well aware that we need to find a way to change the obesogenic environment we have created. We even know what needs to be done – changing urban design and transport options, making healthier food choices easier for the bulk of the population and poor choices more difficult. We even know that we need to subsidise fresh foods for people in remote communities.

In the 1970s, efforts to curb smoking were not very effective until we combined the education campaigns with structural changes that included banning advertisements for cigarettes, stopping sports sponsorship by tobacco companies and changing what society regarded as ‘normal’ by making those who wanted to smoke go out in the cold. We also increased taxes – which were spent on decent anti-smoking campaigns in some states. And every time the price of cigarettes went up, more people decided to give up. A smoke-free environment is now normal and the proportion of regular smokers has been reduced by about two thirds. That’s progress, although it’s no time to give up. There’s more work to do especially with young people and women.

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In a similar way, we need to tackle the obesity epidemic. Harping endlessly at people to change their poor eating habits is not very effective, especially when they’re faced with 30,000 products when they enter the supermarket. We need a better labelling system that will tell people at a glance whether they should buy the product as an everyday food or leave it for parties or special occasions. Such a scheme exists and has been proven to work – but it’s not popular with the food industry because people actually stop buying junk foods that carry a red dot on their label.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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