From fat to fit, an individual and national goal
Like most people, the older I get, the harder it is for me to manage my weight. My friends comment that I am looking a little chubbier than usual and my self-worth is taking a knock whenever I look in the mirror. My recent visit to the doctor for my annual check reinforced that my “bad cholesterol” is up and I need to act to get that in check.
It’s a constant battle and I get tired of that battle. I rationalise it all away, I decide not to listen to the “fat-shamers” and kid myself that I am happy with my new padding around my waist. But then I come to my senses, I remember the health issues and decide I don’t want to leave my kids without a father because I couldn’t be bothered to eat well and exercise.
It’s a constant battle and I get tired of that battle.
Today marks World Obesity Day and so I have decided to challenge myself to lose 14kg in 6 months. At 88kg I am the heaviest I have ever been. Usually I waver between 78kg and 82 kg but recently I have really let myself go. My BMI is now 29 (overweight) and a BMI of 30 is considered obese. Can I bring myself back from the brink?
The health hazards of being overweight and obese are well documented. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke are some of the physical consequences. Depression and anxiety are just two of the psychological consequences. So clearly, I need to change my behaviour.
The health hazards of being overweight and obese are well documented.
Luckily for me I am an adult, with the resources and knowledge to act. I am free from injury and disability and I can afford running shoes, a bicycle, a gym membership and healthy food. I also live in an area with safe open spaces and have the time to exercise every day. There is no excuse for me, even so it easy for me not to prioritise exercise and healthy eating.
In 2008 the Australian Government prioritised action against chronic disease caused by smoking, alcohol and obesity. The National Prevention Taskforce was set up and they released Australia: The Healthiest Country by 2020 – National Preventative Health Strategy – The road-map for action.
We have reached 2020 and according to the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) “Of the 27 recommended actions made in the original road-map to reduce and control obesity in Australia, the OPC found that only one had been fully completed. Many (20) have made limited progress, while six have not been progressed at all.”.
According to the OPC there has been a decade of inaction by the Australian Government. And this inaction is having and will have a significant health impact of the health of Australians. Why was obesity a priority 10 years ago but has now seemingly fallen off the Government’s list of priorities.
...there has been a decade of inaction by the Australian Government
Children rely on adults to make decisions for them. When we as adults decide to feed our children junk food we choose to place or kids at risk of obesity and disease. Children fed processed foods will consume too much sugar and preservatives which will in turn have a physical and psychological affect. Young babies given sugary drinks and juices are at risk of obesity and chronic disease in later life.
Children can be fussy eaters; I know that from direct experience. Grabbing a ‘Happy Meal” is an easier option that patiently encouraging children to eat their greens. Of course, when I was tired after work and “time poor” I opted for the Happy Meal to make life easier. But in the long run it just created a palate for fast food and a dislike for healthy meals.
Of course, when I was tired after work and “time poor” I opted for the Happy Meal to make life easier.
The Australian Government has published the Australian Dietary Guidelines to promote healthy eating. We as adults of course can choose to follow or ignore these guidelines and accept the consequences of our choices. Children and vulnerable adults in care settings do not have that choice so it is the absolute responsibility of the carers, the regulators and the Government to make sure they have access to healthy eating choices.
A case in point is the Australia Government’s initiative known as feedAustralia.
feedAustralia is a health and social program that supports healthy eating behaviours (in accordance with the Australian dietary guidelines) in children within the Early Childhood Education Care (ECEC) settings. The ECEC settings are subsidised and regulated by the Australian Government and the program demonstrated their commitment to promoting healthy eating behaviours at an early age.
The Australian Government’s commitment to partner with the charity sector to design, build and deliver feedAustralia in the early days was strong. But with changes in Ministers that commitment faded. Once the responsibility for funding the program fell into the former Bridget McKenzie’s office and the election loomed it was clear priorities shifted.
Once the responsibility for funding the program fell into the former Bridget McKenzie’s office and the election loomed it was clear priorities shifted.
So, we have a choice. Bemoan the Government and wallow on what could have been, or dust ourselves off and start again. In the same way I could get depressed about my weight or I could get up off my seat and go for a run, I choose to act.
The Australian Government needs to re-prioritise the prevention of chronic disease caused by obesity. The National Task Force developed a plan and all we need now is the commitment by Government to execute that plan.
Back in February 2019 the Australian hosted the Obesity Summit following on from “The Select Committee into the obesity epidemic in Australia” established in May 2018. The former Minister Bridget McKenzie represented the Government at the Summit amid a little controversy which seemed to underline the Government's lack of serious commitment to tackling obesity.
The Australian Government's own submission to the Summit named the feedAustralia program as an important initiative in the fight against obesity. Despite this they would not invite the co-creator of feedAustralia to the Summit. This closed event of 120 chosen "experts" has yet to deliver any tangible results.
So the Summit and the Select Committee seems to have been served up as pure theatre, a distraction. Grant funding to execute the 27 recommended actions seems to have dried up during Bridget McKenzie’s stewardship and in the lead up to the last election.
Where has the money gone?
Reading in between the political lines it's easy to note that the Prime Minister between 2013 and 2015 may have had a role in shifting focus. It is widely reported that Tony Abbot believes individuals have a choice to eat well and exercise, and the Government's role should be to get out of the way. Maybe the momentum created in tackling obesity was stifled by a shift in policy?
Despite the perceived lack of Government action there are groups of people and agencies willing to act, including the movement known as The Obesity Collective. This movement seems to understand the need for a long term systemic approach to obesity and the need to work together in concert in order to turn the curve on the rising prevalence of the chronic diseases associated with obesity.
I was struck by a comment made in the documentary The Magic Pill currently showing on Netflix. According to this documentary, the human is the only animal to experience obesity. Well, the documentary goes on to say, it’s the human and the animals domesticated by humans.
...the human is the only animal to experience obesity
The context of our lives, how we live our lives and the context of the food industry has a huge impact on our health. The Government has a role in legislating and regulating so that all of us, children, adults and vulnerable adults can live long healthy lives. It’s time for the Government to raise its game and it's time for us to agitate to make sure healthy eating is available for everyone in Australia.
It’s time for the Government to raise its game and it's time for us to agitate to make sure healthy eating is available for everyone in Australia.
And it’s time for me to get my running shoes on and start my exercise regime. And it’s time to advocate for action by the Government and plan for a healthy Australia in 2030.
It's time to get fit and to get our nation fit.