Get tough on obesity with cancer pitch
RADICAL public health advertising measures highlighting the link between obesity and cancer, along the lines of successful anti-smoking campaigns, are urgently needed to halt the obesity epidemic, experts say.
Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Ian Olver argued restrictions to fast-food advertising should form part of a national obesity strategy that could also include taxing high fat, sugar or salt foods, and health insurance rebates.
Professor Olver’s call has been backed by other leading obesity experts.
Dr Ian Caterson, professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney, said a strategy could also include subsidies for weight loss programs and tax rebates for companies with exercise or weight control programs.
Professor Olver said Australian children were exposed to more food advertising than those in the US, UK, New Zealand and 11 western European countries.
Smoking rates dropped following advertising bans in the 1970s, and restricting junk food advertising would have a similar effect, he said.
“The government has a responsibility to protect children from the unfair situation of multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns compared with the fairly paltry amount governments give to promote healthy living.”
Professor Olver said it was vital to emphasise the link between obesity and cancer incidence.
“Because of the ageing population, cancer will increase in incidence by about 30% every 10 years until the middle of the century, but that doesn’t factor in the impact of obesity.”
Two research papers – a systematic review in 2007 and a meta-analysis earlier this year – highlighted the risk of cancer associated with obesity.
They found a 5 kg/m2 increase in BMI was strongly associated with adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus, thyroid, colon and renal cancers in men, while in women there were strong associations for endometrial, gallbladder and renal cancers, and adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus.
Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity CEO Dr Tim Gill (PhD) agreed that cancer was another reason for a national obesity strategy.
“Obesity is the biggest health problem we’re facing. If the government doesn’t act, there’ll be many more people with chronic conditions earlier in life on lifelong maintenance therapy.”