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Sydney Morning Herald - Monday 28 November, 2005

Five years to rein in child obesity

By Mark Metherell Political Correspondent

A NATIONAL obesity group is pressing for government and industry to make 2010 the deadline for turning back the rise in the number of overweight children. It wants tougher policies, including a ban on junk food sales at schools and the introduction of "fat kills"-style advertising.

The National Obesity Forum, representing food industry, health, advertising and consumer groups, will this Friday seek to set the goal of stemming the obesity "epidemic" in five years, then moving to halve obesity numbers by 2015.

There are now 1.5 million overweight or obese children in Australia and the incidence, driven by high fat and sugar diets and lack of exercise, has doubled in the past decade.

The call for the target is being led by the forum chairman, the Liberal MP Guy Barnett, who says this generation of children may end up living shorter lives than their parents, because excess weight increases the risk for many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

"Many people don't realise, but unless we act now, our children are not going to live as long as their parents. Do we want to leave that legacy?"

Senator Barnett said.

The Australian Medical Association is due to call today for bans on soft drink and chip vending machines in schools. The association has also warned of a decline in life expectancy because of obesity. Senator Barnett said he hoped the Federal Government would take up the 2010 deadline.

Last month health ministers called for their own obesity taskforce to report by next April into food and drink advertising and the growth in numbers of overweight and obese children.

The Federal Government rejected a plan advocated by the former Labor leader Mark Latham for a ban on food advertising during children's viewing hours.

Senator Barnett said he opposed what he termed "command and control"

measures such as the ban. But he said it was vital for the food and advertising industries, which were seen to be "part of the problem", to join health groups to become part of the solution.

He said the forum wanted the removal of junk food from schools, mandatory fitness tests for schoolchildren and the recognition of obesity as a chronic disease in order to provide more appropriate fitness and nutrition advice under Medicare.

He said he could foresee a place for tough advertising, along the lines of the anti-smoking warnings, that showed graphically the lethal impact of obesity.

"That should not be ruled out as an option if we do not get progress,"

Senator Barnett said.

The tough measures could be justified when it was realised that the number of people dying as a result of being obese or overweight had risen above 8000 a year, compared with the 19,000 deaths attributed to smoking.

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