LIFE

'Relentless' Junk Food Ads And Unhealthy School Canteens Should Be Scrapped, Experts Say

A new study calls for a national shake-up of health policies.

20/02/2017 1:20 PM AEDT | Updated 20/02/2017 9:30 PM AEDT

Australia's health policies should be radically overhauled to include the introduction of a sugar tax and a ban on selling junk food at schools, a landmark study has found.

The Deakin University study released on Monday found Australia was at the top of the global pack on some aspects of nutrition like food labeling, but was lagging in many others.

The study, which involved 100 nutrition experts from 53 organisations nationwide, outlined a national 47-point nutrition plan that would revamp the way Australia regulates food and drink.

It pointed to a number of key areas where Australia was falling down. These included the absence of a national nutrition policy, not enough targeting of unhealthy foods with higher taxes, and a lack of action aimed at cutting the marketing of junk food to children.

In addition to a tax on sugary drinks, lead author Gary Sacks advocated curbing kids' access to unhealthy foods in school canteens and sporting events.

"It's a good start to have policies for restricting junk foods in school canteens, but if kids are then inundated with unhealthy foods at sports venues, and they see relentless junk food ads on prime-time TV, it doesn't make it easy for them to eat well," Sacks said.

There were positive signs across the country, he said, including that the ACT was boosting the healthiness of foods in hospitals, workplaces and at government events. He also pointed to Queensland where nutrition was being incorporated into urban planning considerations.

But Sacks said more needed to be done to turnaround the health of the nation. He said poor diets were now one of the leading causes of poor health nationally, with some 63 per cent of Aussie adults and 25 per cent of children now overweight or obese.

"There is no silver bullet to helping people eat more healthily -- we know from international evidence that we need coordination across federal, state and local government to implement a whole suite of different policies to tackle the problem," he added.

Sacks and other supporters of big changes to the status quo face an uphill battle. The federal government is opposed to a major intervention in the diets of Australians, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce previously referring to a sugar tax as a "moralistic tax".

In the wake of the Deakin study, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson also hit out at any major change in approach, saying people needed to be responsible for themselves.

Meanwhile, Labor has said it has no plans for a sugar tax while the Greens have repeatedly backed such a move.

Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said the current piecemeal approach to fighting obesity would not work.She threw her support behind the Deakin research.

"The study is a valuable road map for governments, who have a real ability to influence some of these key drivers of unhealthy diets and obesity," Martin said.

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