An Obesity Epidemic is horrible too

An Obesity ‘Epidemic‘ is every bit as horrible as the more obvious ones

The World Health Assembly passed a resolution in 1991 to eliminate leprosy by 2000. It was unsuccessful, although its prevalence has decreased by around 90 per cent over the years since.

Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980. In Samoa, a measles outbreak last year (2019) saw almost 6000 people catch it and 82 of them died.

Sars – severe acute respiratory syndrome – killed more than 700 people around the world during an outbreak in 2002-03, after originating in China. In total, it infected more than 8,000 people in 26 countries. In early 2020, a similar outbreak is causing alarm in China and worldwide.

Although Obesity is not literally an epidemic, which occurs when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to many people, in 2017-18, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Survey showed that two thirds (67.0%) of Australian Australian adults were overweight or obese (12.5 million people), an increase from 63.4% in 2014-15.

Epidemics such as smallpox, measles and leprosy cause immediately visible signs and symptoms. Rashes, spots lesions and the rapid onset of serious illness trigger rapid response from communities and governments. Obesity’s onset is gradual and rarely accompanied by immediate illness.

Obesity’s consequences are every bit as noxious as the more obvious epidemics. To quote the World Health Organisation See source

“Being overweight or obese can have a serious impact on health…. leads to serious health consequences such as cardiovascular disease (mainly heart disease and stroke), type 2 diabetes, …. osteoarthritis, and some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)”

What Causes Obesity and overweight?

The British Medical Journal BMJ – See Source

“Fresh evidence links popular processed foods with a range of health risks….the volume of industrially processed products in global food supplies has increased. … transition towards diets linked to a rising prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases in many countries.

One such category is ultra-processed foods, defined as “formulations of food substances often modified by chemical processes and then assembled into ready-to-consume hyper-palatable food and drink products using flavours, colours, emulsifiers and other cosmetic additives….growing body of evidence associating consumption of such foods with poor diet quality, increased cardiovascular risk factors…. obesity and metabolic syndrome.”

Proper foodstuffs not readily available in remote areas and in disadvantaged neighbourhoods

“Indigenous Australians and those living outside Major cities or who are in lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to be overweight or obese”See Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Health Care and obesity’s consequences

AMA President Tony Bartone:- The Australian 7th January 2020 –

“Massive increases in the numbers of people with obesity and diabetes is amplifying the pressures on public hospitals. But Dr Bartone said these were the kinds of diseases that should be able to be prevented and treated in the community.”

The economic burden of treating obesity-related diseases is estimated to rise from A$12 billion in 2014 to A$21 billion in 2025. We spend far, far less on measures to deal with obesity – the most obvious cause of the diseases to be treated.

Artificial sweeteners –

Harvard Health Publishing – See source

  • “… People who use artificial sweeteners may replace the lost calories through other sources…”
  • “….sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup …. these products change the way we taste food….
  • frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes…means people who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods unpalatable..”
  • “…they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake…., we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight.”
  • “Participants …who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda.”
  • “Animal studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may be addictive. .. don’t know what effect large amounts of these chemicals will have over many years…. “
  • ‘Daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes. “


  1. Obesity and being overweight is incompatible with good health and adversely affects individuals, public health systems, aged care and disability care, the national economy, the natural environment and just about every other aspect of life and society.
  2. Obesity and overweight ‘sneaks-up’ on us: it lacks immediate and distressing visual symptoms – rashes, lesions. Death and disability wait until later.
  3. Sugary, refined foods, especially soda.Junk food companies are aggressively and  heavily marketing soft drinks and junk food, particularly to children
  4. Artificial sweeteners very probably trigger unfortunate responses in humans – crave more sugars – eat more sugary foods.
  5. We need to ensure that good tucker is available to everyone, not just the fortunate.
  6. We urgently need to up-grade our knowledge and appreciation of good healthy food. How to grow it, use it, cook it and enjoy – start at schools. even pre-school.

What do we do about it?

Bans can be placed on products and product-related services if there is a risk that they may cause serious injury, illness or death. – Commonwealth permanent and interim product safety bans, and state and territory interim bans include – See link

  • “Glucomannan in tablet form: Mini jelly cups containing konjac – Chocking hazard -see link :
  • Novelty cigarettes or ‘puff cigarettes’ are banned: Chewing tobacco and snuffs- banned .”

Banning junk food and dangerously unhealthy soft drinks is, at first sight, an attractive option. However, bans seem likely to be distracting and at odds with the compelling need  to focus on alerting and educating us about the links between what we eat and how wide-spread obesity seriously damages people, society, economies and the natural environment.

Banning the use of artificial sweeteners is another matter. There is already sufficient reason to believe that theses things distort our sense of taste and our metabolism.

They provide no useful food. They provide an advertising blurb –  ‘diet soda’  – ‘no added sugar’. There is no need for them – use sugar instead: far less additive and destructive of our senses. We did not ban building boards – we banned the use of asbestos in the boards.

Junk food and drinks warning labels

Image result for tobacco warning label

A 2018 study ….. warning labels — particularly graphic, negative warnings — encouraged people to exercise self-control when selecting meals.

The use of warning labels and plain packages has been a seriously useful means of reducing the number of smokers,

Menus and billboards should also include graphic warning about sugar and junk foods and how limiting their use is essential to good health.


Advertising tobacco products is banned. Crap sodas and junk food is advertised endlessly and directed at children and those of us who are least well informed. Ban all advertising of junk food and ‘soda’.

Taxes and Licence Fees

An effective tax system that could see a higher tax added to junk foods and a zero rate or even a subsidy (negative tax) on real food would seem useful. Changing the quality and ingredients in the ‘burger’ – more fibre, less sugar and salt etc. ‘Fries’ replaced with another potato product – herbs instead of loads of salt – better frying oils – etc.

If a Licence is needed for a Pub, why not one for a food and drink shop? Fees linked to how good or noxious are the product sold?

Aboriginal and remote communities

There is rarely any regular access to fresh vegetables and fruit. Staples such as bread and cereals are industrial grade. Transport costs  low volume of sales and lack of completion see high prices.  Once upon a time, many of these communities had a market-garden, usually operated by Chinese migrants and often with Aboriginal people involved.

There is an urgent need for Aboriginal and Remote communities to have access to a Community Garden and a School Gardens with associated education in growing, preparing and cooking quality foods.

Governments should foster such initiatives, which would have enormous social and community benefits as well,

A Job Guarantee program, managed a Community level, would be an effective vehicle to deliver  these benefits –See this Blog Job Guarantee

Education about health and lifestyles: proper food, how to get it, cook it and enjoy it

The whole Australian Community urgently needs wise and effective Government  intervention with suitably designed and delivered programs, which might include-

  • Mandatory School Syllabus inclusion of  health and lifestyle, food gardens, preparation and cooking – just as important as reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
  • Targeted education to the broad community on similar issues – Government advertising TV, Media. Bring back the home garden – even tubs on balconies provide greens and herbs in useful quantity.

Urgent Government Action needed – not endless enquires and Studies

The Sydney Morning Herald See Source

“..the Morrison government’s minister for sport Richard Colbeck, announced the move on Monday while releasing the final report of the five-year review of the Health Star Rating System.

Shoppers would see a confronting 16 teaspoons of sugar on the label of a 600-millilitre Coca-Cola bottle if the advice of health experts is followed by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation.”



Indigenous Issues and a Fair Go

Did it all start with Governor Phillip’s Mob?

No. What we see today has much of its origins in the British Government’s  decision to settle in what is now Australia at Botany Bay. “…a colony there would be of great assistance to the British Navy in facilitating attacks on the Spanish possessions in Chile and Peru…”

At the time, British and European Society, indeed the World’s Societies, were fragmented – upper/lower classes: brutal and inhumane.  Phillip was a product of his times and culture, more enlightened than most.

“The laws of this country [England] will of course, be introduced in [New] South Wales, and there is one that I would wish to take place from the moment his Majesty’s forces take possession of the country: That there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves.”[

Phillip believed in severe discipline; floggings and hangings were a almost daily event, although Philip commuted many death sentences. Phillip ordered that Aboriginal people they must be well treated, and that anyone killing Aboriginal people would be hanged. Despite this and over many years Aboriginal people were driven-off, killed, mistreated. The European population of New South Wales in 1792 was 4,221, of whom 3,099 were convicts. Most of the rest were soldiers.

Not a great start, but almost inevitable because those ruling and administering (and plundering) were uneducated, often sick (scurvy, smallpox) but most significantly, accustomed to being brutalised and incapable of understanding “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” or “Whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to any other person.”

Despite Phillip’s ‘enlightened’ views, subsequent dealings with Indigenous people were seriously and brutally mismanaged. A good deal of the mismanagement continues to this day.

Some key relevant points (see)

  1. Federation – The Commonwealth Constitution states “in reckoning the numbers of people… Aboriginal natives shall not be counted”.
  2. White Australia policy – ban all non-Caucasian people from entering the country.
  3. Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 which grants men and women in all states the right to vote in federal elections, but denies it to every ‘aboriginal native’ of Australia, Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific.
  4. Charles Perkins becomes the first Aboriginal university graduate at University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts. First Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university.
  5.  Charles Perkins leads a freedom ride by Aboriginal people and students  …draw attention to segregation (places of leisure in country towns – swimming pools, picture theatres, hotels and RSL clubs), refusal of service in shops,  and the appalling conditions under which Aboriginal people live.
  6. Causes of a low life expectancy include: poverty poor health and nutrition – Research found that about 80% of the life expectancy difference is due to preventable chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, poor housing, dispossession of their traditional lands, low education level, high unemployment, hidden racism, and inability of politicians to address Aboriginal problems.

 Further observations and some tentative conclusions

  1. Since Australia was settled by the British, essentially as a place to dump the unwanted and to provide a naval base, progress towards a ‘fair go’ was severely and adversely affected by the prevailing cultural, social and political views and cultures of the era along with an under-resourced community – convicts, soldiers, uneducated and sickly.
  2. It took too long to wake up to some aspect of Indigenous disadvantage – it took until 1962 to see Commonwealth Electoral Act provide that all Indigenous Australians should have the right to enrol and vote at federal elections, 2008 to see a bi-partisan Parliament apologise for the Stolen Generations.
  3. Preventable chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, poor housing, low education level, high unemployment, poverty – all of these horrors are evident in both both Indigenous and other  under-privileged Australian Communities.
  4. An inability of politicians to address Aboriginal problems is little different to their failure to deal with unemployment and social problems generally – eg Newstart, Robo-debt Aged Care and NDIS.
  5. Noel Pearson  has said “I believe that there is similar dysfunction in white populations as we witness in my Indigenous communities. I’ve got no doubt the kind of dysfunction that we see is not the result of skin colour, it’s the result of long-term welfare dependency, tied up with the epidemics of substance abuse. So I’ve got no doubt that this is a universal problem”.


The government should introduce a Job Guarantee that offers a job at a living (minimum) wage to anyone who wants to work but cannot find employment. See:- and Associate Professor Pavlina Tcherneva

The Australian government can afford this program because it has has no financial constraint as the issuer of the currency. A currency-issuing government can always choose the unemployment level once the spending and saving decisions of the non-government sector are implemented.

In terms of the overall working of a national economy ( macroeconomics), a Job Guarantee would be an automatic stabiliser that ensures that the Government isp doing necessary amount of spending where it is needed in the right places and right time to achieve full employment with stable prices.

When the private sector is recovering, federal government spending would automatically fall as people leave the Job Guarantee for higher paid jobs elsewhere. When the private sector experienced a downturn, federal government spending would automatically increase as people lose their private sector jobs and enter the Job Guarantee.

Unemployment is a major loss of valuable productive resources, depressing the economic economic growth and lowering our standard of living of the whole community.

Offsetting the cost of a Job Guarantee would include lesser demand for Centrelink services, enhanced tax revenue and receipts, including those on superannuation and investments.
The costs associated with substance abuse, including health care costs and police interventions would lessen. Unemployment and its adverse social effects adds very substantially to on-going and escalating Government spending. Local economies, particularly those in Rural and Remote areas would see an enhanced economy and small businesses would have better prospects.

Training must be included, to ensure that the unemployed are equipped with skills that will be needed when the private economy starts again to employ more people.

Not a “work for the dole” proposal. This is voluntary, full time employment, guaranteed and managed by the government.  It is not intended to be compulsory: it’s there for people who want to work. How to deal sensibly and humanely with those who are able to work and refuse to do so should examined and addressed – it is beyond the ambit of this paper. Those who cannot work because of drug or alcohol dependencies should be offered health care, training counselling and more to equip them for meaningful work.

Job Guarantee Programs should be managed at local area or even neighbourhood levels. Each area’s Program must be managed and supervised  by appropriately qualified people – a well paid, sought-after job. (eg – maybe Centrelink staff, fewer of which would be now needed).

Some  relevant Job Guarantee examples

  • Noxious Weed eradication – pests: graffiti
  • Road Maintenance at low levels – small truck/4 or so workers- potholes, rubbish.
  • Climate change responses – tree planting and care
  • Enhanced care of National Parks, recreation areas, sporting facilities, school premises and streets and neighbourhoods generally
  • Indigenous health, nutrition, social and other problem areas  – Care for Country.
  • Gardens for fresh produce in remote areas, particularly Aboriginal and Islander Communities.

The points made above are only a very broad outline – see here  and  generally  online and elsewhere for much more information. See also another Post on this Blog

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