Long delayed National Obesity Strategy out for consultation – again

People with obesity want greater support from health professionals for weight management, according to new data released in the draft National Obesity Prevention Strategy – but many health professionals report feeling uncomfortable raising weight-related issues, or being unaware of support options available, the document states.

The long promised National Obesity Strategy, led by the Queensland Department of Health and agreed to by all governments in 2018, has been published in draft form and released this week for public consultation.

Significant resources were invested in an extensive consultation process during 2019 and early 2020, with more than 2,500 individuals and organisations participating and providing detailed input through national surveys and community consultations.

The lengthy delays in producing a strategy have been criticised by public health advocates, such as Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, who described obesity as an urgent public health issue

“Three years on and we are yet to see the Strategy, let alone begin implementing it,” she wrote in Croakey in August.

“Our governments have the blueprint for change; and it’s time we asked, where is our National Obesity Strategy and why the delay?

Ambitious plan

Revealing alarming rates of obesity across the country, the draft document states that one in three Australian adults are overweight or obese. For children the rate is one in four.

Strikingly it states that in Australia, for every 200 children who visit their family doctor, 60 are overweight or obese, but only one is offered weight management support.

Outlining what the strategy authors themselves call an ‘ambitious 10-year framework’ for action to halt overweight and obesity levels by 2030 the document prioritises the destigmatisation of obesity as a crucial step in reducing the many health and social harms associated with the condition.

“It is time to shift away from blaming individuals and from focusing on individual weight management, and to turn our attention to strategies that address the causes of obesity in our society.”

Responding to community feedback, the Obesity Prevention Strategy will target international trade and investment agreements to influence and support a healthier food and drinks supply chain while also pledging to work with industry to make healthy food more affordable.

Other recommendations include the development and protection of agricultural land in and around urban areas, subsidising healthy food and drinks and using transport subsidies in rural and regional areas as well as investigating pricing policies to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks high in sugar, salt and saturated and trans fats.

The Strategy will also see state and federal government work with the food regulation system to set new limits for the amount of  added sugar, salt, saturated fat and trans fats that can be used in certain foods and drinks on top of increasing nutrient density  requirements of unhealthy food and drinks by upping vegetables, legumes or wholegrain cereals in food service and retail settings.

Focus on teen obesity

Meanwhile the growing burden of childhood obesity has been prioritised with the transition from adolescence to early adulthood flagged as a key target demographic for intervention.

“One of the biggest shifts in excess weight gain occurs in the transition to adulthood, with an increase in overweight and obesity from 25% of children (5-17 years) to 50% of young adults (18-24 years)” the document states suggesting that health professionals identify unhealthy weight gain at various life stages, with early action to prevent further progression and reverse small increases in weight.

It also highlights Australian data that demonstrate only 46% of young people ate the recommended serves of fruit while just 4% reported eating the recommend serves of vegetables.

The Strategy suggests governments invest in low or no cost approaches to provide cooking skills and education to young people with a focus on low-income groups and develop targeted ways to support young people to continue participating in physical activity through high school and the transition to work or further study.

Meanwhile an update to the 2013 National Health and Medical Research Council’s Clinical practice guidelines for managing overweight and obesity in adults, adolescents and children has been slated as part of a key strategy  to develop clearer models of care to prevent, identify and address unhealthy weight with integrated referral pathways.

The Strategy will also introduce new professional development programs that will help health professionals understand weight stigma, blame, and the mental health implications of overweight and obesity.

The draft Strategy is open for comment until November 3. To have your say visit the page here.

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