Baker, Phillip: Fat nation: the rise and fall of obesity on the political agenda

Phillip Baker

Fat nation: the rise and fall of obesity on the political agenda‘, The Conversation, 26 May 2017

Tackling obesity should be a political priority but it is a tough challenge: many causes, no quick fix, lack of regulatory controls on ‘obesogenic’ foods. The article studies the rise and fall of obesity on federal government agendas between 1990 and 2011 and finds a lot of political attention but a lack of priority for the issue. Some reasons can be found in the interference run by the food industry, the fragmentation of public health groups, confusion over the lines between personal and public responsibility, ‘nanny state’ fears being whipped up, and the general complexity of the issue.

Stuart Macintyre pokes briefly into obesity in his chapter in The Honest History Book:

Australians have always liked to claim that we punch above our weight, but more of us now fight in the heavyweight division. A quarter of recruits to the armed forces in 1914–18 and 1939–41 – in both cases following an economic depression – were at risk due to an extremely low body mass index; decades later, when the army’s dress uniform was redesigned in 2016, the trousers came with a stretch waist …

[T]wo-thirds of our adults are obese or overweight. One factor cited for increasing obesity is a lack of exercise. Fewer families live on a quarter-acre block with a backyard for play; fewer children walk to school, and it is younger, inner-city adults who fill the bicycle lanes (pp.178-79 in the chapter called ‘Bust and boom: What economic lessons has Australia learned?’).

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