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30 November, 2009
A visiting health expert has urged Australians to walk more, use the car less and by doing so improve not only their own health but that of the environment.
Professor Geof Rayner, who is an expert advisor to the Department of Health in England, and the UK partner of an EU-funded European-wide project examining the respective roles of food industry, made the call at a forum on public health at Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Institute, in Geelong. (November 24)
Professor Rayner believes Australians can set their own personal goals to improve their health and help reduce climate change.
“Obesity is effectively the climate change of public health,” he said.
“It has crept up on us and we know it is dangerous but we are too afraid of looking too far into the future because it is frightening.”
Professor Rayner said 50 years ago, the image of Australians was as a fit, sturdy population with plain, simple but healthy diets.
“As society changed shape, people changed shape,” he said. “Australia, which once thought of itself as the sportiest country in the world, has an obesity problem.
“While the details of the story differ, the essentials are not so different from other societies world-wide.
“In the southern regions of Italy, once famous for the Mediterranean Diet, the majority of eight year old children are overweight.
“In Nairobi in Kenya, parents complain that teenagers only want to watch football on TV and hang around burger restaurants.
“In Mexico, the national story is not just the outbreak of drugs violence, but the burgeoning rates of child obesity.”
Professor Rayner said the key to understanding population weight gain could be found in three interlocking societal transitions, to diet, to the physical environment and to culture.
“We are using up more and more fossil resources and why, so we can consume more,” he said.
“Not only does the environment suffer, but so does our health. “People drive more now and walk less.
“I call that a metabolic transition, people are not doing what they used to do. Once upon a time you would walk or cycle to work.
“What we do doesn’t have to be huge. If we set a goal for instance to reduce our car use by 10 per cent, we not only help ourselves but we help the environment.”
Professor Rayner said people needed to move out of the culture of snacking.
“Ideally you would make schools vending free zones, and all children would know how to cook and know where food came from,” he said.
“We eat too much meat and not enough fruit and vegetables.”
Professor Rayner said the physical environment and cities did not encourage physical activity.
Professor Rayner said Australia was a microcosm of the planet. “You only have so many resources to sustain your population in reasonable comfort,” he said. “When you export crops you are effectively exporting embedded water.
“We really need to rethink what you can do and don’t take this thing called progress for granted, it is a double edged sword.”
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