Australia is dragging its feet on healthy eating. In 5 years we’ve made woeful progress

Australia is falling further behind other countries when it comes to addressing our unhealthy diet.

Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico, have taken significant steps in recent years to improve nutrition and reduce obesity.

Our latest report, released in conjunction with the International Congress on Obesity, has revealed major gaps in Australian government policies relative to best practices internationally and limited policy progress over the last five years.

What do we assess?

In our assessment of the federal government, we included a scorecard that ranked Australia’s performance in 50 areas of policy aimed at addressing unhealthy eating habits. These policies include the key influences that influence what we buy and eat. They include policies that impact the price and affordability, types of foods available, how they are labeled and promoted, and the way we promote food.

We worked closely together with government officials in order to document the current state of each policy area. Then, we compared the existing policies to benchmarks from around the world.

We made recommendations for addressing the gaps. These were prioritized based on relative importance and feasibility. In the assessment and priority-setting process, 84 experts from 37 organizations participated.

How does Australia compare to other countries?

The implementation of globally recommended policies to improve population diets and address obesity in Australia fell far short of best international practice.

In Australia, there has only been limited progress on policy in the last five years.

Australia’s strengths and areas of excellence

Australia was only rated well in one area: food labeling. Some of its regulations, such as ingredient lists, nutrition panels, and health claims, were rated among the best in the world.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are cheaper than other products because the GST is not applicable.

What do other countries do better?

Other countries have adopted policies that limit the marketing and sale of unhealthy food, making it easier for consumers to choose healthier alternatives.

Latin American countries are setting the global standard. Chile has implemented comprehensive restrictions for TV advertising of unhealthy foods, warning labels on packaging, and taxes on sugary beverages. Mexico has similar policies.

More than 50 countries have now imposed taxes on sugary beverages. There is evidence that these taxes have reduced consumption of the products taxed, as well as incentivizing soft drink producers to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks.

Other governments have taken strong measures to protect their children from the marketing of unhealthy foods. The United Kingdom, for example, is planning to prohibit ads promoting unhealthy food on the internet and TV before 9 pm in 2024. Canada is currently debating similar legislation in their Parliament.

In the UK, major changes have also been made to the way supermarkets are run. The UK has also introduced new laws that restrict the promotion of products high in fat, sugar, or salt in supermarkets.

The UK has also proposed a prohibition of price discounts for unhealthy foods, though implementation is uncertain due to the recent change of government leadership.

Internationally, several other innovative policies have been implemented. In some areas of Mexico, retailers are not allowed to sell unhealthy foods to children. In Argentina, laws dictate the maximum sodium content of a variety of products.

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