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Headlines > Policy

Aussies know all about obesity but have trouble tackling it

By RJ Whitehead , 11-Dec-2012

Supermarket group Coles has released new figures that reveal a greater awareness about obesity in Australia, even though the majority of shoppers have struggled in the fight against the bulge. 

The findings show that more than 90% of shoppers know of the disorders associated with obesity, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

However, despite being well informed of the dangers of being overweight, nearly three-quarters of customers have had reason to lose weight, with 67% of them saying that they struggled to meet or maintain their target weight because of a lack of willpower. 

Moreover, more than a third of Coles customers believe that obesity is a disease that cannot be tackled by changing eating habits alone, with around a quarter saying that pregnancy and parenting is a key time for government action. 

Thirty per cent of customers also felt that government should underwrite weightloss programmes and surgical procedures. 

Helping shoppers

Coles conducted the research with Obesity Australia to develop its own strategy for health by making healthier products better, more affordable and more convenient. 

Coles’ home brands general manager, Tina Jeary, said that understanding consumer attitudes to obesity would help the supermarket develop better products and services. 

Our research shows that customers feel that as a nation we are getting heavier, not healthier. But despite a good knowledge of the issues, most customers have still struggled with weight at some point in their lives. 

Obesity Australia chair, Prof. John Funder, said: "The Coles findings are fascinating and far-reaching. Their respondents show a very good appreciation of the extent to which overweight and obesity are an issue in the Australian population. 

Government support

In addition, they understand the need for government support, not only around pregnancy and parenting, but also of accredited weightloss programmes and medical and surgical approaches to severe obesity. This is a very persuasive evidence base upon which more effective policies can be designed to staunch the flow into obesity, and to mitigate the societal costs—personal, medical and in terms of productivity—of established obesity."

Funder added that providing the best evidence for prospective parents over the four years before their child’s third birthday would minimise the chances of subsequent obesity.

[Obesity Australia’s] focus is to change public perceptions of established obesity to allow the government to address the epidemic by part-payment for accredited weight-loss programmes and medicine and surgery, as currently done by the private health insurance sector,” he said.

While obesity is regarded as primarily a personal failing, government action is limited to largely ineffective exhortation.” 

In 2012, Coles has seen a 20% increase in fruit and vegetables sales and has removed “30 tonnes of salt a year from customers’ diets” with salt-reduction targets.

Editor's note: Are retailers and brands making it easy for consumers to pursue a healthy diet? And what about the role of the government: should it be working more closely with consumers to help them lose weight? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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