People in at least one Australian state would welcome more government regulation on food matters for a better public health environment, a new survey has revealed.
The research, which was published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, found high levels of support among adults in Western Australia for food control policies to improve diet, reduce obesity and protect the environment.
“Community perception is that government control or regulation of food labelling, food advertising and the supply of environmentally friendly food is important,” said the survey, which questioned 2,147 adults aged 18–64 years in 2009 and 2012.
Just over 97% of respondents said that control or regulation on food labels was important and almost 93% favoured regulation of a health rating on labels.
Moreover, 84% agreed with food advertising regulation, and 85% supported regulation of an environmentally friendly food supply.
The study used these findings to recommend the continuation and an increase in intensity of government food action.
“Curbing excess weight gain and related disease burden is a public health priority. Australian governments are considering food regulatory interventions to assist the public to improve their dietary intake,” the survey said.
“These findings should provide reassurance to government officials considering these regulatory measures.”
Governments must act
On food labelling, the researchers said their findings supported the recommendations of the Australian government's independent review of the subject that examined policy drivers, considered the government's role, and identified principles and approaches for appropriate enforcement.
“The review reinforced the principle that public health and safety is the main policy driver for food labelling, and that there is community support for high levels of regulation for the management of public health issues,” it said.
Researchers pointed out that there appeared to be some regulatory options to curb television advertising at state level and a number of jurisdictions have considered taking action.
“Considering the high levels of support for regulation and the levels of concern by governments over poor diet, overweight and obesity, and subsequent chronic diseases, these findings should provide a catalyst to support early government action,” it said.
On the issue of environmentally friendly food supply, researchers highlighted the importance of collaboration across sectors including agriculture, transport, trade and commerce, which has found shape in the recently-launched National Food Plan.
“This plan translates to a supply of environmentally friendly food. How to achieve this is complex, but the results of this present study indicate that the community thinks this is an important food policy for government control and regulation measures.”