Citizens' jury wants government action on child obesity

Monday, 23 May 2016

A South Australian citizens' jury run by University of Adelaide researchers has made 10 major recommendations aimed at curbing childhood obesity, such as changes to food and advertising regulations, and the need for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

The two-day citizens' jury – comprising 20 representative members of the South Australian community – was conducted last year as part of the HealthyLaws HealthyViews research project. The findings of that project are being presented in Adelaide today by Dr Jackie Street from the University of Adelaide's School of Public Health.

"Childhood obesity and its long-term consequences are a significant challenge for public health internationally, including Australia," Dr Street says.

"While a number of regulatory measures offer potentially effective responses to this issue, governments in Australia have been reluctant to use such measures. Policy makers seem concerned that these measures will not be acceptable to the community.

"However, the results of our study show that quite the opposite is true – people want action, they want governments to intervene. They want a high-profile, public conversation about how to address these problems," Dr Street says.

As part of the HealthyLaws HealthyViews research project, Dr Street and her colleagues investigated the regulatory approaches being taken internationally to help curb childhood obesity.

"Regulation elsewhere in the world has been patchy, but we've seen a range of measures in place, such as planning restrictions on fast food outlets, taxes, restrictions on marketing and advertising, and front-of-pack food labelling and menu labelling to advise of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

"By contrast, Australian governments' responses have tended to focus on school, parental and individual responsibilities, with healthy eating guidelines, school-based education and child health checks," she says.

The South Australian citizens' jury was organised to help better understand community views.

"The citizens' jury agreed that the prevention of obesity was a complex one. They believe multifaceted government intervention is needed and made 10 recommendations which fell into the categories of: health promotion and education; regulation of food marketing; taxation and subsidies; and a parliamentary inquiry," Dr Street says.

"The three biggest issues for the citizens' jury were: school-based nutrition education and health promotion, mandatory front-of-pack labelling for food and drink, and boosting taxation on high-fat, high-sugar food and drink.

"This citizens' jury is now the third such community forum to be held in Australia, with each of the community groups making very similar recommendations. We believe that a politically acceptable legislative approach may be taken to address these issues, by supporting relevant, informed public discussion and debate," she says.

The HealthyLaws HealthyViews research project was funded by the former Australian National Preventive Health Agency.

The following were recommended by a citizens' jury of 20 South Australian representatives of the community, as part of the HealthyLaws HealthyViews research project, School of Public Health, University of Adelaide.

The jury was asked to consider the question: What laws, if any, should we have in Australia to address childhood obesity?

Health promotion and education

• School-based nutrition education and health promotion programs
• Mandatory front-of-pack interpretive labelling to identify and warn against high-fat, high-sugar food and drinks
• Nutrition education for the general population
• Nutrition education programs targeted to new parents

Regulation of food marketing

• Regulation of nutrition and physical activity in schools (including zoning fast food outlets to prevent them from being built or operated near schools)
• Advertising bans on high-fat, high-sugar foods
• Bans on fast food company sponsorship of sporting events

Taxation and subsidies

• Taxation on high-fat, high-sugar foods
• Subsidies for farms, to lower prices and improve community access to affordable healthy food options

A parliamentary inquiry into diet and nutrition

• A parliamentary inquiry to define what are considered to be "unhealthy" food and beverages, so that regulatory change can be implemented clearly and effectively


Contact Details

Dr Jackie Street
Senior Lecturer
School of Public Health
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: +61 (0)432 943 641

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762