The Australian New Zealand Obesity Society today released its annual league table of how the states and territories are performing in obesity prevention. It shows that the SA and WA Governments are leading the pack, while the NT Government has won the “couch potato” award (with NSW also ranking at the bottom of the league).

The award seems like an effective mechanism for encouraging governments to prioritise obesity prevention (given comments I heard at the Society’s meeting in Sydney today, suggesting that some governments have been quite keen to find out who have been the informants for the survey in each jurisdiction. But their identities are apparently kept secret, in line with that journalistic principle, we must protect our sources.)

If so, perhaps it’s something that could be useful for other causes – such as encouraging a policy focus on health inequities and the social determinants of health.  Which raises the question of whether there is an organisation or interest group able to drive such a tool?

Meanwhile, this is the statement released today by ANZOS:

The South Australian and Western Australian Governments have been awarded a ‘Gold Medal’ for their action on obesity prevention at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the ANZOS in Sydney today.

In contrast, in a tight contest, the Northern Territory Government has the dubious honour of receiving the annual ‘Couch Potato’ award for its lack of progress on implementing obesity prevention initiatives – just pipping New South Wales.

The annual national ‘Couch Potato’ awards were developed by ANZOS to recognise Australia’s best and worst performing state or territory in relation to obesity prevention activities.

The awards are given on the basis of rating and comparing progress across a range of obesity prevention priorities including enabling cheaper and easier access to healthy food, reducing the marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods and creating opportunities for exercise through better urban design and access to facilities.

Monash University public health researcher, Dr Anna Peeters, said that most states appeared to have ‘upped the ante’ and had recognised the urgency of the obesity epidemic this year and broadened the scope and increased the number of activities.

“What we’ve seen this year is that leadership is the vital differentiator; those states and territories with strong commitment and buy-in across government are also those jurisdictions which are leading the way.

“The South Australian and Western Australian Governments have made significant progress this year to topple Queensland, which has won the Gold Medal for the previous two years.  What these three states share is strong leadership in policies to improve the food supplied in various important settings. They’ve gone beyond healthy food policies in schools, expanding into healthcare, government and sporting facilities. We would really like to see the other states and territories following this lead,” said Dr Peeters.

Dr Peeters also commends two Governments for initiating the implementation of progressive policies -Victoria’s kilojoule labelling in fast food outlets and the ACT’s legislation to increase competition between supermarkets in order to lower food prices.   NSW is also recognised for its leadership in advocating for national restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

Despite improvements across the board, the Society warned that nationally there were still major holes in a comprehensive approach to obesity prevention. In particular, the lack of progress in restricting junk food advertising to children was counter-productive to the activities that the leading states and territories were undertaking.

How each state and territory measured up

The criteria checklist requires states and territories to score government action over a number of categories including policies, law reform, food access, social marketing campaigns, as well as state-wide monitoring and evaluation.  These are assessed by the ANZOS Public Health Sub-Committee which collates the responses from experts in each state and territory and assigns the awards.

1.     Gold Medal Award – SA and WA

2.     Queensland

3.     Victoria

4.     Tasmania

5.     ACT

6.     NSW

7.     Couch Potato Award – NT

1. South Australia – Gold Medal Award

“South Australia’s leadership is demonstrated by a strategic and integrated approach across government, from social marketing, through capacity building, to health services and urban design,” said Dr Peeters.

Initiatives of note include: Eat Well Be Active Healthy Weight Strategy and the expansion of the flagship Obesity Prevention And Lifestyle program – a community based childhood obesity prevention project driven by the Health Minister with support from the Premier.  The new research and evaluation centre PANORAMA also informs the Strategy implementation.

ANZOS highly commends South Australia’s new healthy food and drink choice policy for healthcare facilities, and its involvement in three urban planning initiatives including the NHF led ACTive living coalition in urban design and transport.

1. Western Australia  – Gold Medal Award

“Western Australia also has a strong bipartisan, whole of government approach, extending its influence through a range of initiatives such as its Premier’s Physical Activity Taskforce, monitoring and evaluation of population data and strong, evaluated social marketing campaigns such as ‘Draw the line’, ‘Go for 2 & 5’ and ‘Find 30 every day’,” said Dr Peeters.

ANZOS commends the Western Australian government’s excellent policy on food in public facilities, which it is now looking to be expanded to sporting venues, and its model of funding through the health promotion agency Healthway supporting reforms around sponsorship and food supply in sports settings.

2. Queensland

“Queensland continues to demonstrate leadership with its Q2 strategy and sets the standard around improving the food supply, from schools, to health services, to sporting facilities.  Queensland also has developed some novel approaches, such as development of a land access strategy and regular monitoring of the healthy food basket price and accessibility,” said Dr Peeters.

This year has also seen the development of Making Tracks, focused on closing the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Queenslanders. ANZOS commends the development of the Food for Sport guidelines and the SEPAHE (Supportive Environments for Physical Activity and Healthy Eating) Project.

3. Victoria

“Victoria’s improvement in the ranking is a reflection of a number of novel initiatives, including Australia’s first kilojoule labelling on fast food menus,” said Dr Peeters.

Other important initiatives include the recently announced Pedestrian Access Strategy, the inclusion of health as an objective in the Planning Act, and the establishment of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Food Policy. ANZOS recognises the WorkHealth initiative and hopes to see further linked initiatives to increase the capacity of the workplace for prevention.  The government will establish a centre for intervention research and policy on chronic disease early next year.

4. Tasmania

ANZOS particularly commends the establishment of the Food Security Council this year, and Tasmania’s progress of policy around kilojoule menu labelling.

“Tasmania has progressed towards a more integrated government approach through the Premier’s Physical Activity Council. Other areas of strength for Tasmania were their extensive social marketing, and a focus on preventive health, including government supported telephone health coaching,” said Dr Peeters.

5. ACT

ANZOS commends the ACT’s policy on allowing access to schools on weekends and after hours and their action with legislation to increase competition between supermarkets and lower food prices. The whole of government Chronic Disease Strategy provides a solid foundation for further actions. We look forward to seeing the development of a policy around food supply in public health and other government facilities in the near future.

6. New South Wales

“New South Wales ranked sixth this year reflecting the potential to integrate a number of excellent initiatives to provide a strong, state-wide approach. This would build on initiatives such as the NSW Premier’s Council of Active Living which this year launched the NSW Bike Plan and includes excellent monitoring and evaluation,” said Dr Peeters.

ANZOS commends the government’s role in supporting national food marketing restrictions and the Premier’s advocacy for national mandatory labelling of fast foods menus. ANZOS looks forward to seeing the realisation of an effective statewide initiative, including a settings-based approach to prevention and building on their hospital food policy to move into other government funded and/or operated facilities.

7. Northern Territory

Dr Peeters said that the Northern Territory had some unique attributes that limited its ability to compete with other states in terms of scale and issues relating to regional and remote communities; however it did have some programs in place which showed real potential such as the Nutrition And Physical Activity Program and the establishment of free access to the Leanyer leisure park in Darwin.