Prevalence of various disorders such as obesity and diabetes has led to surge in demand for food products with low sugar content. In addition, growing need for weight management is projected to impact the global market growth of artificial sweeteners positively. Report states that the global market of artificial sweeteners is projected to reflect a CAGR of 4.7 per cent over the forecast period, 2017-2026.
Factors Fuelling Growth of the Global Market Growth of the global artificial sweeteners market are mainly bound by various macro-economic and micro-economic factors. As prevalence of disorders such as obesity and diabetes continue to remain on the rise, food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly focusing on offering food products with low sugar content. In addition, changing consumption and spending patterns of the customers is projected to reflect positively towards demand for the artificial sweeteners globally. As customers are becoming more aware about the health benefitting food products, the leading food and beverage companies are concentrating on producing fat-free and diabetic friendly food products to expand their customer base.
Sales of artificial sweeteners is projected to remain concentrated in the beverage industry. In order to cater to the increasing demand for fat-free and sugar-free products, the major food and beverage companies are focusing on offering beverage products that have low sugar content such as diet coke. As customers are increasingly following diet plans for weight management, preference for consumption of beverage products with low or no sugar-content is projected to remain high. Preference for healthy, fat-free and sugar-free food products is projected to rev up demand for artificial sweeteners in the global market during the forecast period.
However, various factors are projected to pose significant challenges for growth of the global market growth of artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are projected to record significant demand during production of aerated drinks such as soft drinks. As customers are becoming more health conscious, preference for healthy beverages such as natural fruit juices are projected to increase. Drop in sales for soft drinks in North America and Europe attributed to changing consumer patterns is projected to inhibit the global market growth of artificial sweeteners positively. Moreover, various artificial sweetener products such as Aspartame, Saccharin and Sucralose have carcinogenic properties, which can affect the customer’s health adversely. Bound to these factors, artificial sweeteners are projected to witness decline in demand over the forecast period.
Sales to Remain High in Food and Beverage Industry As the need for sweet and low calorie food product is projected to remain high, demand for artificial sweeteners such as aspartame is likely to increase among the food manufacturers. In terms of revenue, the aspartame product type segment is projected to witness the highest growth, recording more than $9,260 Mn by 2026-end. On the other hand, the sucralose product type segment is projected to reflect a healthy CAGR over the forecast period. By end users, the food and beverage segment is projected to register significant revenue growth, representing for a value of over $12,822 Mn by 2017-end. In contrary, the pharmaceuticals end users segment is projected to reflect the fastest growth in the global market of artificial sweeteners throughout 2026.
By 2026-end, the beverage application segment is projected to significant growth in terms of revenue, recording more than $5,700 Mn. On the other hand, the bakery goods application segment is projected to witness a healthy CAGR over the forecast period.
Results from the latest Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Health & Wellness Progress Report, prepared in conjunction with Deloitte Global, indicate steady progress is being made by consumer products companies towards the goals set by the organisations for themselves in the global battle to tackle obesity.
The report is based on a global survey of 83 retailers and consumer goods manufacturers of which 45 per cent are based here in Asia-Pacific. The respondents represent a collective value of more than US$3 trillion in revenues and impact billions of lives on a daily basis.
Now in its fifth year, the report details how members of the CGF are working together to empower consumers and employees around the world to live healthier lives. It acknowledges more work remains to be done, and to meet the long-term objective of creating healthier communities, the CGF has committed to strengthen its leadership in the area of health and wellness for the next five years and beyond.
Key findings from the report include that 88 per cent of companies introduced products that have been formulated and/or reformulated to support healthier diets and lifestyles; and that there was a 12% increase over the last year in the number of companies which are (re)formulating products to include less salt and less sugar.
In addition, there was more reporting from personal care companies on the reformulation of products including parabens, phthalates, microbeads and fragrances. Also, 58 per cent of respondents participated in food bank programmes, with 180 million meals distributed and over 77,000 tonnes of food donated.
“Unhealthy lifestyles leading to diseases such as obesity are huge global problems, not least here in Australia where three out of four adults are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2025 ,” said Vanessa Matthijssen, Deloitte National Consumer Products Leader.
The report also acknowledges the evolving preferences of customers towards retailers who can demonstrate health, transparency, and are aware of their responsibilities and social impact.
Drinking sugary soft drinks could increase cancer risk, regardless of body size, reveals new research from Cancer Council Victoria and University of Melbourne.
People who regularly drank sugary soft drinks were found to be more at-risk of several types of cancer than those who didn’t, according to the study, published in the Public Health Nutrition journal today.
“These particular cancers are commonly associated with obesity, however our research found this risk existed for all participants, no matter their size,” said Associate Professor Allison Hodge of Cancer Council Victoria’s Cancer Epidemiology and Intelligence Division.
The findings are based on a research study of more than 35,000 Australians who developed 3283 cases of obesity-related cancers.
“We were surprised to find this increased cancer risk was not driven completely by obesity.
“Our study found that the more sugary soft drinks participants drank, the higher their risk of cancer. This was not the case with those who drank diet soft drinks, suggesting sugar is a key contributor,” said A/Prof Hodge.
“Even people who were not overweight had an increased cancer risk if they regularly drank sugary soft drinks.”
The caramel colouring (4-methylimidazole) used in cola drinks, and artificial sweeteners, did not seem to affect cancer risk, she said.
“Interestingly, though, we found those who regularly drank diet soft drinks were just as likely to be obese as those who regularly drank sugary soft drinks, which still carries health risks”.
Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said these findings provide yet another reason for people to cut back their consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
“Sugary drinks, including soft drinks, are already known to be a cause of obesity, which greatly increases the risk of 13 types of cancer,” he said.
“And cancer is just one of many chronic health conditions associated with sugary drink consumption – including increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.”.
“We need more people to understand the connection and make the switch to water.”
The study looked at adult soft drink consumption, but the problem is likely even more significant in younger Australians, according to Obesity Policy Coalition Executive Manager Ms Jane Martin.
“Younger Australians are consuming significantly more sugary drinks than older people, they are widely available and often discounted” Ms Martin said.
“Big brands bombard kids with marketing for these unhealthy sugary drinks, including through sport, which can set kids up for a lifetime of health problems.”
“A 20% health levy on sugary drinks can help deter people from these cheap and very unhealthy drinks, and help recover some of the significant costs associated with obesity and the increasing burden this puts on our public health care system.”
Ms Martin also said people should still be cautious about drinking artificially-sweetened drinks, as these have also been associated with weight gain and obesity, which is in turn associated with cancer.
A/Prof Hodge said she would like to see these findings confirmed among other populations, and understand why – and the extent to which – sugar seems to increase cancer risk.
“This is one of the first studies to identify an association between sugary soft drinks and cancer risk, and so we hope this study will encourage more research in this area going forward,” she said.
A poor diet and obesity can lead to mental health problems in adolescents, according to researchers from the University of Tasmania.
The association between overweight/obesity and depression is known, but this new research, led by Professor Wendy Oddy from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania and using participants from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, focused on a possible biological pathway.
The study found that ‘healthy’ dietary pattern (high in fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains) protects against depression in adolescents through reduced body mass index and associated inflammation.
In contrast, a western dietary pattern (high intake of red meat, refined and takeaway foods, confectionary) is associated with increased depression risk in adolescents most likely through increased body mass index and underlying inflammation.
Approximately 1,600 Raine Study participants were surveyed at the age of 14 years, and more than 1,000 at 17 years, for the study. Questionnaire answers on food and nutrient intake at 14 years were cross-referenced with a mental health questionnaire and clinical data on body mass index (BMI) and inflammation three years later.
People in the study were asked about their usual dietary intake in the past year and their diet was classified as either mainly ‘Healthy’ or ‘Western’. Withdrawal, social problems, anxiety, depression and physical symptoms were assessed by mental health questionnaire.
Professor Oddy said the research indicated a complex association between dietary patterns, overweight/obesity, inflammation and mental health problems, including depressive symptoms. “Scientific work on the relationship between mental health problems and inflammation is still in its infancy, but this study makes an important contribution to mapping out how what you eat impacts on these relationships,” she said.
Professor Oddy said her team of researchers is now studying specific food components and nutrients to try and understand more about the biological mechanisms leading to mental health problems and depression in adolescents and young adults.
The research has been published in Brain Behavior and Immunity.
A class of chemicals used for more than 60 years in products ranging from food wrappers to clothing to pots and pans may cause greater weight gain after dieting, particularly among women, according to research by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The chemicals—perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs)—have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, immune dysfunction, high cholesterol, and obesity.
The study also found that higher blood levels of PFASs—known as “obesogens” because they may upset body weight regulation—were linked with lower resting metabolic rate (RMR), or slower metabolism after weight loss. Metabolism refers to the chemical processes in the body that convert energy from food, commonly known as “burning calories.” People with a lower RMR, or slower metabolism, burn fewer calories during normal daily activities and may have to eat less to avoid becoming overweight.
The study was published online on February 13, 2018 in PLOS Medicine.
“Obesogens have been linked with excess weight gain and obesity in animal models, but human data has been sparse. Now, for the first time, our findings have revealed a novel pathway through which PFASs might interfere with human body weight regulation and thus contribute to the obesity epidemic,” said senior author Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School.
Studies have shown that PFASs have contaminated drinking water near industrial sites, military bases, and wastewater treatment plants. These chemicals can accumulate in drinking water and food chains and persist for a long time in the body.
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.
Being bombarded by TV ads for unhealthy, high calorie food could lead teens to eat more than 500 extra snacks like crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks throughout the course of a single year compared to those who watch less TV.
Energy and other fizzy drinks high in sugar, takeaways and chips were some of the foods which were more likely to be eaten by teens who watched a lot of TV with adverts.
The report, based on a YouGov survey, questioned 3,348 young people in the UK between the ages of 11-19 on their TV viewing habits and diet.
When teens watched TV without adverts researchers found no link between screen time and likelihood of eating more junk food. This suggests that the adverts on commercial TV may be driving youngsters to snack on more unhealthy food.
The report is also the biggest ever UK study to assess the association of TV streaming on diet. It found that teens who said they regularly streamed TV shows with ads were more than twice as likely (139%) to drink fizzy drinks compared to someone with low advert exposure from streaming TV, and 65% more likely to eat more ready meals than those who streamed less TV.
Regularly eating high calorie food and drink – which usually has higher levels of fat and sugar- increases the risk of becoming overweight or obese.
Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking, and is linked to 13 types of cancer including bowel, breast, and pancreatic.
Dr Jyotsna Vohra, a lead author on the study from Cancer Research UK, said: “This is the strongest evidence yet that junk food adverts could increase how much teens choose to eat. We’re not claiming that every teenager who watches commercial TV will gorge on junk food but this research suggests there is a strong association between advertisements and eating habits.
“It’s been 10 years since the first, and only, TV junk food marketing regulations were introduced by Ofcom and they’re seriously out of date. Ofcom must stop junk food adverts being shown during programmes that are popular with young people, such as talent shows and football matches, where there’s currently no regulation.
“Our report suggests that reducing junk food TV marketing could help to halt the obesity crisis.”
The Obesity Health Alliance (link is external) recently published a report (link is external) which found that almost 60% of food and drink adverts shown during programmes popular with adults and 4-16 year olds were for unhealthy foods which would be banned from children’s TV channels.
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “Obese children are five times more likely to remain obese as adults which can increase their risk of cancer later in life.
“The food industry will continue to push their products into the minds of teens if they’re allowed to do so. The Government needs to work with Ofcom to protect the health of the next generation.”
Australian tech company, Oxil has officially launched the Challenger App and jumped into the deep end from the get-go by including over 1000 students in South West Victoria.
The simple to use app was developed with the purpose of improving health and wellbeing of adolescent children by enabling them to track food intake, level of activity and potentially, break bad habits.
“Most health apps focus on either nutrition, fitness or mental health – but not on all three. We wanted to give students the ability for instant and accurate feedback about what’s going on in their body,” said Archie Whiting, Managing Director of Oxil.
The ‘Challenge’ aspect comes in the form of competitions where users can challenge friends or family using the app, reaping rewards and points for newly acquired good habits.
Prior to its official launch, a local focus group in Hamilton were given a special trial to test the Challenger App to reduce childhood obesity and improve the overall well-being in adolescents’ aged 10 -16 in their schools.
Dubbed “The Greater Hamilton Challenge’ it involves 6 regional schools and 1000 students with the one goal – to tackle the alarming obesity issue common to this particular part of Victoria.
A 2015 Deakin Report suggested that across five shires of Victoria’s Great South Coast, including Southern Grampian Shire, 37% of boys and 38% of girls in grade 6 were overweight or obese.
Additional research out of Deakin University and GenR8Change suggests up to 50% of primary school-aged children are overweight and/or are obese.
“Sugar is the new tobacco. Our children’s health is at risk and the experts are telling us that this could be the first generation to experience a shorter lifespan than generations before,’ says Dr. Andrew Hirst, Principal of The Hamilton and Alexandra College.
All participants were pleased with the final results with one of the school captains chanting at a school assembly: “Keep swiping, keep eating. Stop typing, start meeting.”
What makes the Challenger App highly engaging is the use of modern technologies, such as Gesture-based surveying, Machine learning for identifying habits, Intuitive & Suggestive algorithms, and Instant Feedback to the students so they can learn about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Oxil is now officially inviting other regions to the challenge, visit challenger.oxil.io to register for early access.
Australian company Holista CollTech and US-based Holista Foods have developed a noodle formula with a low Glycemic Index, which may help fight obesity.
The noodles developed by Holista’s Buffalo, New York-based U.S. subsidiary of Holista Foods Inc., recorded a GI reading of 38 in independent tests conducted by Glycemic Index Laboratories, Inc, Toronto, Canada. The global average GI reading for noodles is 60.
The GI reading indicates the rate in which foods containing carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels in humans, with a lower score indicating healthier food. More than 100 million adult Americans suffer from diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 11 million Canadians are living with the disease.
The Diabetes Canada has endorsed Holista Foods’ low-GI noodle formula as having met the latter’s dietary guidelines. Holista Foods is allowed to display the Diabetes Canada logo on its product.
In addition to the low GI reading of 38, each 85 gram serving of noodles contains 11 grams of protein, three grams of fibre, zero sugar, low sodium, low cholesterol and clean label ingredients (no artificial ingredients or preservatives) and cooks in just three minutes.
Holista Foods will showcase the low-GI noodles at the 2017 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago, Illinois, from October 21-24, and at the 2017 Diabetes Canada/CSEM Professional Conference in Edmonton, Alberta, from November 1-4.
According to market research group Statista, nearly half the world’s wheat is consumed as noodles, with China and Indonesia topping the list while a quarter is consumed as bread. The U.S. noodle market is worth US$270 million. The World Instant Noodles Association reports that global demand for instant noodles has declined from 106 billion servings in 2013 to 97.5 billion servings in 2016 as consumers continue to reduce the amount of processed foods, especially carbohydrates, from their diet.
The availability of low-GI noodles will provide consumers with a healthier option that does not compromise the taste and texture of the product. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit report on “Tackling obesity in ASEAN (South-East Asian Nations)”, a low-GI diet was found to be the most effective among food-based interventions.
Holista Foods, headed by CEO, Ms Nadja Piatka, who has supplied healthier baked goods to major fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Subway, had announced in September 2016 its research efforts to develop the world’s first low-GI noodles using Holista’s low-GI ingredient, a patented formula that includes extracts of okra, dhal (lentils), barley and fenugreek.
Holista, a research-driven biotechnology and food ingredients company with operations in Australia and Malaysia, said it expects to conclude the first order for its low-GI noodles by November 2017.
In January 2016 Holista unveiled PANATURA(R)GI a patented formula co-developed with Veripan AG of Switzerland that achieved the world’s lowest GI reading for clean-label flour-based bread. This product is in the late stage of commercialisation.
Holista Foods is also researching to develop low-GI mixes for muffins, cakes, cookies and pancakes. Holista has also commenced research on a low-GI formula for sugar.
Today, on World Obesity Day, the World Obesity Federation along with global health leaders, including the Lancet and the World Health Organization, is shining the spotlight on the staggering costs and continued impact of obesity, including new data showing the continued increase in childhood obesity and the financial consequences of untreated obesity at all ages.
Untreated, obesity is responsible for a significant proportion of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and many types of cancer. The global annual medical cost of treating these serious consequences of obesity is expected to reach $1.5 trillion per year by 2025. In Australia the annual cost of treating these consequences is estimated to reach $22 billion, or cumulative costs of $163 billion between now and 2025.
In contrast, new figures from World Obesity Federation suggest that by spending just $4.4 billion to reduce the prevalence of obesity from 34% to 29% in Australia will help to avoid many of these consequences and their associated costs.
The World Obesity Federation data demonstrates how investing in the prevention, management and treatment of obesity is a cost-effective action for governments and health services. Investment can also help to achieve the 2025 targets set by the World Health Organization to halt the rise in obesity and to achieve a 25% relative reduction in mortality from NCDs. The World Obesity Federation are using World Obesity Day, 11th October, to urge governments, health service providers, insurers and philanthropic organisations to prioritise investment in tackling obesity. This means 1) investing in treatment services to support people affected by obesity, 2) early intervention to improve the success of treatment and 3) prevention to reduce the need for treatment.
The President of the World Obesity Federation, Professor Ian Caterson, said, “Obesity is now a worldwide epidemic which absorbs a vast amount of our healthcare resources. The annual medical costs of treating the consequences of obesity such as diabetes and heart disease is truly alarming. We are using World Obesity Day this year to emphasis the cost-savings of tackling obesity now rather than waiting to treat the co-morbidities later. Continual surveillance by World Obesity has shown how obesity prevalence has risen dramatically over the past 10 years and with an estimated 177 million adults suffering severe obesity by 2025, it is clear that Governments need to act now to reduce this burden on their national economies.”
Johanna Ralston, Chief Executive Officer of the World Obesity Federation said, “Addressing obesity now rather than treating the consequences is clearly going to be lifesaving and cost-saving, and an effective means for governments to meet their NCD targets. There is now a real urgency to integrate obesity services into universal health coverage programmes. The World Obesity Federation is here to help governments to meet this challenge.”
On World Obesity Day, the Lancet will be publishing new estimates of child and adolescent trends in obesity and undernourishment, produced by the World Health Organization.“We expect to see that child obesity is still rising in low and middle-income countries, with the absolute numbers of overweight children expected to exceed the numbers of undernourished children within the next few years”, said Dr Tim Lobstein at the World Obesity Federation. “If this is borne out, then governments and development agencies will have to tackle undernutrition while also tackling obesity, and will need ‘double-duty’ policies to provide the best nourishment for healthy growth.”
 WOD 2017 data. World Obesity Federation projections.
Thirty-four leading community, public health, medical and academic groups have today united for the first time to call for urgent Federal Government action to address Australia’s serious obesity problem.
In the ground-breaking new action plan, Tipping the Scales, the agencies identify eight clear, practical, evidence-based actions the Australian Federal Government must take to reduce the enormous strain excess weight and poor diets are having on the nation’s physical and economic health.
Led by the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) and Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), Tipping the Scales draws on national and international recommendations to highlight where action is required.
Areas nominate include time-based restrictions on TV junk food advertising to kids, the introduction of a 20% health levy on sugary drinks, and establishing a national obesity taskforce.
OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said the eight definitive policy actions in Tipping the Scales addressed the elements of Australia’s environment which set individuals and families up for unhealthy lifestyles, rather than just focusing on treating the poor health outcomes associated with obesity.
“Sixty-three per cent of Australian adults and 27 per cent of our children are overweight or obese. This is not surprising when you look at our environment – our kids are bombarded with advertising for junk food, high-sugar drinks are cheaper than water, and sugar and saturated fat are hiding in so-called ‘healthy’ foods. Making a healthy choice has never been more difficult,” Martin said.
Professor of Epidemiology and Equity in Public Health at Deakin University, Anna Peeters, said the 34 groups behind the report were refusing to let governments simply sit back and watch as growing numbers of Australians developed life-threatening weight and diet-related health problems.
“For too long we have been sitting and waiting for obesity to somehow fix itself. In the obesogenic environment in which we live, this is not going to happen. In fact, if current trends continue, there will be approximately 1.75 million deaths in people over the age of 20 years caused by diseases linked to overweight and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer heart disease, between 2011-20501,” Professor Peeters said.
An international study led by ANU has found that as sugary drinks consumption increased the risk of type 2 diabetes also increased, independently of obesity and weight gain.
The study, which used a new statistical technique called mediation analysis, found thousands of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented every year in Thailand if people stopped drinking sugary drinks every day.
The results come from the Thai Cohort Study from 2005 to 2013, which involved a nation-wide sample of nearly 40,000 adults.
Lead author Keren Papier from ANU said type 2 diabetes killed millions of people globally every year and evidence from around the world showed that a reduction in sugary drink consumption would reduce rates of type 2 diabetes.
“A reduction in sugary drink consumption is likely reduce rates of diabetes in Australia,” said Ms Papier, a PhD candidate from the ANU Research School of Population Health.
“Several countries including Mexico, the United States, France and Chile have already started acting on sugary drinks by imposing or committing to a sugar tax.
“Findings from the United States and Mexico show that applying the tax has led to a 17 and 21 per cent decrease respectively in the purchase of taxed beverages among low-income households.”
The tax has raised over $US2.6 billion in Mexico.
“Sugary drinks are an ideal target for public health interventions to help control the type 2 diabetes epidemic since they have no nutritional value and do not protect against disease,” Ms Papier said.
“Over 4,000 cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented annually in the Thai population if people avoided drinking sugary drinks daily. Thai women, who are at double the risk of type 2 diabetes from drinking sugary drinks, would be the main beneficiaries.”
Between 1983 and 2009, the average Thai person’s sugar intake jumped from 13kg to 31kg in a year.
Ms Papier said research in several rich countries had shown that women globally were at higher risk of type 2 diabetes from drinking soft drinks.
“Women are more susceptible because they generally have lower muscle mass and energy needs compared with men,” she said.
ANU conducted the study with QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University in Thailand.
It is part of a larger study of the health-risk transition to chronic disease underway in middle-income countries and the information from Thailand is leading to a better understanding of multi-level forces driving the process worldwide.
The research is published in Nutrition & Diabetes.
Australians are eating ever bigger portions of foods laden in fat, sugar, and salt, according to research by The George Institute for Global Health.
Researchers compared data from 1995 to 2012 and found portion sizes for a large proportion of Australia’s most commonly consumed junk foods had risen significantly.
Pizza and cake stood out for being the worst offenders, recording a 66 per cent increase in the average number of kilojoules consumed in one sitting. A typical portion of sausage, cereal bar, processed meat, ice cream and wine also increased in size.
Dr Miaobing Zheng, of The George Institute for Global Health, said the results were worrying given that discretionary foods contribute about a third of Australia’s daily energy intake. “Over the past two decades we found that foods which provide very little nutritional benefit have surged in size, and this is helping to fuel Australia’s obesity epidemic,” said Zheng.
“We had expected portion sizes to have grown but we were still surprised by just how much. It’s pretty disturbing that an average slice of cake has increased in size so much it now contains almost 1000 kilojoules more than it did two decades ago.”
The study published in the journal Nutrients also found the portion sizes of pastries, snack foods (potato crisps, popcorn, corn chips) and potato fries had actually decreased.
“We aren’t 100 per cent sure why the portion sizes of these foods reduced, but if you take fries, for example, most fast food chains offer small portions, so it could be the case that people recognise these foods are unhealthy and consciously try and eat less of them. But, unfortunately these foods items were the exception, not the norm,” said Zheng.
“We know that people often under report the amount of food and drink they consume, especially if they consider them ‘bad‘ foods. So the true picture of what Australians are eating could be much worse.”
The team examined data from two different Australia-wide surveys – the 1995 National Nutrition Survey and the 2011-2012 National Nutrition Physical Activity Survey. Participants were asked to record everything they had eaten in a 24 hour period and were given photos and measuring guides to help them asses the size of their portions accurately.
Data was also recorded by age and sex. Researchers found serves of ice-cream eaten by women had increased in size by nearly a third.
Co-author Beth Meertens, of The Heart Foundation, said: “There has been some success in this area, but there’s lots of work to do. We need the community to understand how portion size may influence the amount of food they eat, and to think carefully about how they choose their food portions.
“But, more importantly, we need an environment which supports and encourages those choices. We need to work with the food industry to reduce the size of the products which have increased over time, and increase the portions of healthy foods.
“Now, with this Australian-specific information, we are better placed to improve portion size in Australia.”
More than half of supermarket products marketed at kids are unhealthy, according to research from the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC).
The OPC surveyed 186 packaged foods with cartoons or character promotions designed to attract children – 52 percent were classified as unhealthy by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion calculator, which looks at the amount of energy and certain nutrients (e.g. saturated fat, sugars, sodium) present in the food.
OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said at a time when 27 per cent of Australian children are overweight or obese, it’s shocking to see so many manufacturers directly targeting children with unhealthy food.
“It’s extremely frustrating to see cartoons and animations being used to lure children and create pester power to push parents into buying unhealthy products for kids,” Ms Martin said.
“Children are naturally drawn to fun, colourful characters on foods in the supermarket, and food companies are fully aware of this. They know that children have an incredible amount of power over what their parents buy[i], and that’s why Chile, a country that has been very progressive in obesity prevention, has restricted the use of cartoons on unhealthy food packaging.
“It’s a shame that this powerful marketing tactic is not being used to sell more healthy products instead.”
Among the unhealthy products which used cartoons to appeal to children were Kellogg’s Frosties, which are 41 percent sugar, and Kraft Cheestik Sticks which contain 17.5g of saturated fat per 100g.
Food advertising in Australia is basically self-regulated, leaving food and advertising industries to make and break their own rules. Current industry-led regulations do not cover food packaging.
“In Australia, the use of cartoons and characters on food and drink packaging is allowed, even under weak self-regulation, providing an unfettered marketing tool for food advertisers to target children,” Ms Martin said.
“We want food manufacturers to stop using animations to promote junk food in any way to kids and for the Federal Government to extend and strengthen existing junk food marketing regulations.
“Peak health bodies, such as the World Health Organization, recognise that restricting junk food marketing to children is a vital step in improving children’s diets and slowing our serious obesity problem. Urgent action is required to protect our children from the plethora of junk food promotion that surrounds them.”
One company which uses cartoon characters in its marketing, Kelloggs, is resisting the call for change.
“Beloved Kellogg characters like Coco the Monkey, Sam Toucan and Tony the Tiger have been around for many years and are part of our heritage. Tony is the eldest and will be turning 67 this year. To get rid of them would be akin to asking Qantas to get rid of the Flying Kangaroo,” a Kellogg spokesperson said.
“The OPC is effectively saying to parents that they have less influence on their kids than a picture of a tiger or a monkey on a box of cereal, which is hugely discrediting to what parents decide to choose or don’t choose for their kids.”
Australian households spend the majority (58 per cent) of their food budget on discretionary or ‘junk’ foods and drinks, including take-aways (14 per cent) and sugar-sweetened beverages (4 per cent), according to new research.
According to Professor Amanda Lee, who is presenting her research at the Dietitians Association of Australia’s National Conference in Hobart this week, healthy diets are more affordable than current (unhealthy) diets – costing households 15 per cent less.
But according to Australian Health Survey data, few Australians consume diets consistent with national recommendations.
“Less than four per cent of Australians eat adequate quantities of healthy foods, yet more than 35 per cent of energy (kilojoule) intake comes from discretionary foods and drinks, which provide little nutrition – and this is hurting our health and our hip pocket,” said Professor Lee, from the Sax Institute.
She said the figures are particularly worrying because poor diet is the leading preventable cause of ill health in Australia and globally, contributing to almost 18 per cent of deaths in Australia, while obesity costs the nation $58 billion a year.
Professor Lee, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, added that ill health due to poor diet is not shared equally, with some population groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people who are disadvantaged socioeconomically, more at risk.
Her research found that, although healthy diets cost less than current (unhealthy) diets, people in low income households need to spend around a third (31 per cent) of their disposable income to eat a healthy diet, so food security is a real problem in these households.
She added that policies that increase the price differential between healthy and unhealthy diets could further compromise food security in vulnerable groups.
“At the moment, basic healthy foods like fresh vegetables and fruit are except from the GST, but there’s been talk of extending this to all foods. If this were to happen, the cost of a healthy diet would become unaffordable for low-income families,” said Lee.
Lee said Australia needs a coordinated approach to nutrition policy – a call echoed by the Dietitians Association of Australian, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Heart Foundation and Nutrition Australia.
We all know that most people could improve the quality of their diet. Most of us do not eat the recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables – let alone seven or even ten, as some have suggested. Nor do we consume adequate amounts of oily fish.
Instead, intakes are often too high in saturated fats and sugars added to foods and fruit juice, and too low in fibre and some key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A and iron. A significant proportion of adults in both the UK and the US are obese or overweight. Intake of red and processed meat is too high, and meat consumption continues to rise in the US, the European Union and the developed world. Despite a shift toward higher poultry consumption, the largest proportion of meat consumed in the US is still red meat (58%).
There are serious implications for long-term health as a result of this disordered way of eating. To improve the situation we need to know how much energy and nutrients are being provided by our food. To help do this, we developed myfood24, an online dietary assessment tool that can support accurate, detailed recording of food and nutrient intake by researchers, but which can also support patients with diet-related conditions, sports enthusiasts, families with “picky” eaters and others. With data on 40,000 nutrients, it includes the largest and most complete food composition table in the UK, and possibly the world.
The size of portions and packaging has increased over the past 50 years, as has the number of products on supermarket shelves. This variety of choice makes it hard for consumers to even start to estimate how many calories or nutrients they might be consuming.
A new generation of smartphone apps offer users a chance to monitor their intake. However, there isn’t strong evidence that most of these are effective. Twenty-eight of the top 200 rated health and fitness category apps from Google Play and iTunes focused on both weight management and self-monitoring diets. When these apps were compared to people using a standard record of weighed food that they ate, the apps over- or underestimated energy intake by 10-14%.
But it’s not just consumers who are affected by inaccurate monitoring. Researchers, who base their studies on this kind of data, also encounter problems.
A major limitation of nutrition research is getting an objective measure of dietary intake. Misreporting is a big problem when people self-report their diet and is particularly common in overweight or obese people. Misreporting generally tends towards under-reporting of unhealthy foods and over-reporting of fruits and vegetables.
Metabolic profiling, which involves testing urine for the hundreds of metabolites that provide chemical signatures of food and nutrient intakes, doesn’t require self-reporting and may be a useful addition to self-reporting. A highly controlled study of 19 people fed four different diets found differences in metabolite concentrations. While this approach cannot replace the need to determine what actual food and nutrients have been consumed, it could be used as an objective measure to validate self-reports.
Understanding what nutrients are in the food we eat also relies on having comprehensive and up-to-date food composition tables – standardised national databases with accurate measures of many nutrients in typical foods. Standard food composition tables in the UK list around 3,000 food items, the majority of which are generic rather than branded (which more of us are likely to consume). While they include the full range of nutrients, they only include a limited selection of foods which are available for purchase.
Pre-packed foods legally have labels with nutritional values. These include values for energy (kJ and kcal), and amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. Further information can be included but is not compulsory for mono and polyunsaturated fats, starch, fibre, vitamins or minerals. If a nutrition or health claim is made on the packaging then the amount of that nutrient must also be stated.
Real time feedback
Developed with funding from the Medical Research Council, myfood24 combines the convenience of new technologies with an enhanced food composition table. Covering a wide range of generic and branded foods, it’s a quick and easy tool to help researchers, and potentially also clinicians, to track, monitor and analyse nutritional intake. We mapped the 40,000 nutrients from food label information and generic food data. To get an idea of the scale of this, the number of products on supermarket shelves is around 50,000 items.
The tool replaces the need for time consuming and costly coding of paper records that researchers and clinicians use. It means that people can record their dietary intake by selecting foods and portion sizes and adding them to their food diary. We hope this will support more accurate self-reporting, especially as users can be less self-conscious than when reporting to an interviewer. Researchers can then use results from this to find out in detail what foods and nutrients are being eaten. This data can then be linked to health outcomes or matched against recommendations.
Real time feedback of nutrients in foods could help us choose a more appropriately balanced diet over the week. Much as we have come to rely on regular visits to the dentist to ensure our teeth are healthy, the regular use of dietary monitoring could help us to ensure that our food and nutrient intakes are also healthy.
Dependent on how you spend your Monday evenings you may have caught Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped on TV. The programme covered two topics of interest to me; portion sizes and plate sizes.
There is evidence that portion sizes of commercially provided foods have increased over time and the programme covered this story. One of the main reasons this is of relevance to public health is because there is also now compelling evidence that the amount of food you are served or provided with reliably affects how much you eat – and that larger portions appear to cause most people to eat more. Our modern day “obesity epidemic” is thought to have been caused primarily by an increase in how much we are eating. So this is important stuff.
The other topic covered by Food Unwrapped, however, is a pet hate of mine: plate size. There is a commonly held belief that using smaller plates reduces the amount of food that people eat. It sounds plausible; when you use a smaller plate, you serve yourself less and because of this you end up eating less. Right?
I became interested in the magic of smaller plates after reading an article that discussed some of the research on smaller plates but neglected to mention a number of studies that had found that smaller plates did not reduce how much people ate. Not long after that a team of us reviewed and analysed all available studies that addressed this question.
Our conclusion was that the evidence for the magic of smaller plates was very unconvincing. There were more studies that had found no benefit on calorie consumption of dining with smaller plates than there were studies that supported the smaller plates equals eat less hypothesis. Also, the studies that did support the smaller plate idea all came from the same research group and we noted a number of important limitations in some of those studies’ methodologies. It just so happens that it was the same research group that has recently come under fire for questionable research practices.
We next conducted our own study to examine if giving participants smaller bowls to serve themselves with popcorn reduced the amount of popcorn that they ate. We did not find that using a smaller bowl reduced how much participants ate – if anything participants ate more when using a smaller bowl, as opposed to a larger bowl. Likewise, a further study in 2016 from another research group found no evidence that smaller plates promoted reduced food consumption.
Now back to Food Unwrapped. The programme tried a similar experiment to the one that we did and what did they find? Again, like us they found no evidence to suggest that giving people smaller plates reduced how much they ate – instead they appeared to find the opposite – participants ate about twice as much when dining with smaller as opposed to larger plates.
Why might smaller plates not reduce how much people eat? One good guess is because if you are using a smaller plate you may initially serve yourself a little less but then go back for second helpings – you do have a small plate after all.
Rather worryingly though, at the end of the episode we were reassured that there is still clear evidence that smaller plates do make people eat less and Food Unwrapped’s experiment must have been a fluke.
The idea that simply giving people smaller plates to eat from will magically reduce how much they eat is an idea that may never die (indeed the Food Unwrapped programme was a repeat of an episode first shown in 2016). But it should do. This is because we need to make sure that we are taking aim at the types of environmental factors that can reliably help people eat more healthily.
So what should we be sizing up? There is now accumulating evidence that if the food industry made substantial reductions to the number of calories in popular food and drink products then we would be eating less as a nation. Making this kind of change happen will of course be more difficult than simply telling the general public to eat from miniature plates, but if we are to tackle obesity effectively then it is a change that must happen.
Some of us can definitely say we have a sweet tooth. Whether it’s cakes, chocolates, cookies, lollies or soft drinks, our world is filled with intensely pleasurable sweet treats. Sometimes eating these foods is just too hard to resist.
Eating sugary foods can become ingrained into our lifestyles and routines. That spoonful of sugar makes your coffee taste better and dessert can feel like the best part of dinner. If you’ve ever tried to cut back on sugar, you may have realised how incredibly difficult it is. For some people it may seem downright impossible. This leads to the question: can you be addicted to sugar?
Sugar activates the brain’s reward system
Sweet foods are highly desirable due the powerful impact sugar has on the reward system in the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released by neurons in this system in response to a rewarding event.
Drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and nicotine hijack this brain system. Activation of this system leads to intense feelings of reward that can result in cravings and addiction. So drugs and sugar both activate the same reward system in the brain, causing the release of dopamine.
This chemical circuit is activated by natural rewards and behaviours that are essential to continuing the species, such as eating tasty, high energy foods, having sex and interacting socially. Activating this system makes you want to carry out the behaviour again, as it feels good.
The criteria for substance use disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) cites a variety of problems that arise when addicted to a substance. This includes craving, continuing use despite negative consequences, trying to quit but not managing to, tolerance and withdrawal. Although sugary foods are easily available, excessive consumption can lead to a number of problems similar to that of addiction. So it appears sugar may have addictive qualities. There is no concrete evidence that links sugar with an addiction/withdrawal system in humans currently, but studies using rats suggest the possibility.
Dopamine has an important role in the brain, directing our attention towards things in the environment like tasty foods that are linked to feelings of reward. The dopamine system becomes activated at the anticipation of feelings of pleasure.
This means our attention can be drawn to cakes and chocolates when we’re not necessarily hungry, evoking cravings. Our routines can even cause sugar cravings. We can subconsciously want a bar of chocolate or a fizzy drink in the afternoon if this is a normal part of our daily habits.
Repeated activation of the dopamine reward system, for example by eating lots of sugary foods, causes the brain to adapt to the frequent reward system stimulation. When we enjoy lots of these foods on a regular basis, the system starts to change to prevent it becoming overstimulated. In particular, dopamine receptors start to down-regulate.
Now there are fewer receptors for the dopamine to bind to, so the next time we eat these foods, their effect is blunted. More sugar is needed the next time we eat in order to get the same feeling of reward. This is similar to tolerance in drug addicts, and leads to escalating consumption. The negative consequences of unrestrained consumption of sugary foods include weight gain, dental cavities and developing metabolic disorders including type-2 diabetes.
Quitting sugar leads to withdrawal
Sugar can exert a powerful influence over behaviour, making cutting it out of our diets very difficult. And quitting eating a high sugar diet “cold turkey” leads to withdrawal effects.
The length of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms following a sugar “detox” varies. Some people quickly adjust to functioning without sugar, while others may experience severe cravings and find it very difficult to resist sugary foods.
The withdrawal symptoms are thought to be factors of individual sensitivity to sugar as well as the dopamine system readjusting to a sugar-free existence. The temporary drop in dopamine levels are thought to cause many of the psychological symptoms including cravings, particularly as our environment is filled with sweet temptations that you now have to resist.
Why quit sugar?
Cutting sugar from your diet may not be easy, as so many processed or convenience foods have added sugars hidden in their ingredients. Switching from sugar to a sweetener (Stevia, aspartame, sucralose) can cut down on calories, but it is still feeding the sweet addiction. Similarly, sugar “replacements” like agave, rice syrup, honey and fructose are just sugar in disguise, and activate the brain’s reward system just as readily as sucrose.
Physically, quitting sugar in your diet can help with weight loss, may reduce acne, improve sleep and moods, and could stop those 3pm slumps at work and school. And if you do reduce sugar consumption, sugary foods that were previously eaten to excess can taste overpoweringly sweet due to a recalibration of your sweetness sensation, enough to discourage over-consumption!
In the past few years, you may have noticed more and more people around you turning away from meat. At dinner parties or family barbecues, on your social media feed or in the news, vegetarianism and its more austere cousin, veganism, are becoming increasingly popular.
While the veggie patty and the superfood salad are not going to totally replace lamb, chicken or beef as Aussie staples any time soon, the number of Australians identifying as a vegetarian is rising steadily.
According to Roy Morgan Research, almost 2.1 million Australian adults now say their diet is all or almost all vegetarian. Ask someone why they are a vegetarian and you are likely to get many different answers. The reasons include environmental, animal welfare and ethical concerns, religious beliefs and, of course, health considerations.
It’s this last factor we set out to investigate. There are several existing studies on the impact of vegetarianism on health, but the results are mixed. A 2013 study, which followed more than 95,000 men and women in the United States from 2002 to 2009, found vegetarians had a 12% lower risk of death from all causes than non-vegetarians.
Given the contentious nature of discussions about vegetarianism and meat eating, these findings generated lots of coverage and vegetarianism advocates hailed the study.
We set out to test these findings, to see if being a vegetarian would translate into lower risk of early death in the Australian population. Australia is home to the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the southern hemisphere, the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study. This gives us a pool of more than 260,000 men and women aged 45 and over in New South Wales to work with.
We followed a total of 267,180 men and women over an average of six years. During the follow-up period, 16,836 participants died. When we compared the risk of early death for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, while controlling for a range of other factors, we did not find any statistical difference.
Put more simply, when we crunched the data we found vegetarians did not have a lower risk of early death compared with their meat-eating counterparts.
This lack of “survival advantage” among vegetarians, outlined in our paper in Preventive Medicine, does not come as a complete surprise. In 2015, a United Kingdom-based cohort study concluded vegetarians had a similar risk of death from all causes when compared with non-vegetarians. This is contrary to the US-based study findings.
Does that mean everyone should drop the asparagus, fire up the barbie and fill up on snags, steaks and cheeseburgers? Not necessarily.
Other ‘healthy’ factors
It’s standard practice in epidemiological studies to statistically control for various factors (we call them “confounders” as they may confound an association). We controlled for a number of factors to get a true sense of whether vegetarianism by itself reduces risk of death.
It’s important to acknowledge that in most studies vegetarians tend to be the “health-conscious” people, with overall healthier lifestyle patterns than the norm. For example, among the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up participants, vegetarians were less likely than non-vegetarians to report smoking, drinking excessively, insufficient physical activity and being overweight/obese. They were also less likely to report having heart or metabolic disease or cancer at the start of the study.
In most previous studies, vegetarians did have lower risk of early death from all causes in unadjusted analysis. However, after controlling for other lifestyle factors, such as the ones listed above, the risk reduction often decreased significantly (or even completely vanished).
This suggests other characteristics beyond abstinence from meat may contribute to better health among vegetarians. More simply, it’s the associated healthier behaviours that generally come with being a vegetarian – such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly – that explain why vegetarians tend to have better health outcomes than non-vegetarians.
In a separate study we conducted using data from the 45 and Up Study, we found people who ate more fruit and vegetables, particularly those who had seven or more serves per day, had a lower risk of death than those who consumed less, even when other factors were accounted for.
And although there is unclear evidence a vegetarian diet promotes longevity, studies have consistently shown other health benefits. For example, a vegetarian diet has been consistently associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
A meta-analysis (a statistical analysis that combines data from multiple studies) from 2012 concluded vegetarians had a 29% lower risk of early death from heart disease and an 18% lower risk for cancer.
It’s important to keep in mind that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, has classified the consumption of processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans.
So what does it all mean?
While we can’t say for certain if being a vegetarian helps you live longer, we do know having a well-planned, balanced diet with sufficient fruit and vegetables is certainly good for you.
We also know sufficient physical activity, moderating alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco smoking are key factors in living longer. And the growing body of evidence shows vegetarians are more likely to have these healthy habits.
Countries with such different food cultures as, say, Mexico and Palau are facing the same nutritional risks and following the same obesity trends. Our research aims to understand why, and we have examined the link between various facets of globalisation (trade, for instance, or the spread of technologies, and cultural exchanges) and the worldwide changes in health and dietary patterns.
A recent global study reports that worldwide, the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese increased from 29% in 1980 to 37% in 2013. Developed countries still have more overweight people than developing nations, but the gap is shrinking. In Kuwait, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, Tonga, and Samoa, obesity levels among women exceed 50% in 2013.
The WHO identifies unhealthy nutrition patterns, along with increasing physical inactivity, as the main drivers of rising body weight around the world. Diets rich in sugar, animal products and fats constitute important risk factors for non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and different types of cancer.
In 2012, cardiovascular diseases killed 17.5 million people, making them the number one cause of death globally. Because more than three quarters of those deaths took place in low- and middle-income countries, causing substantial economic costs for their public welfare systems, the WHO classifies food-related chronic diseases as a growing worldwide threat, on par with traditional public health concerns such as under-nutrition and infectious diseases.
The Western world was the first to experience substantial weight gains of their populations, but the 21st century has seen that phenomenon spread to all parts of the globe. In a widely cited 1993 article, University of North Carolina’s Professor Barry Popkin attributes this shift to the “nutrition transition” by which diets became less dominated by starchy staples, fruits, and vegetables and richer in fats (especially from animal products), sugar and processed foods.
The different stages of this transition, Popkin says, are related to social and economic factors, such as industrialisation level, the role of women in the labour force and the availability of food-transforming technologies.
The meat factor
The rise of the percentage of the population that’s overweight, and changes in diet patterns broadly coincide with the globalisation process. Undoubtedly, globalisation has affected people’s lives in various ways, but has it caused a nutrition transition?
In order to answer this question, we have analysed the impact of globalisation on changing dietary patterns and overweight prevalence using data from 70 high- and middle-income countries from 1970 through 2011.
We found that globalisation has led people to consume more meat products. Interestingly, the social dimensions of globalisation (such as the spread of ideas, information, images and people) are responsible for this effect, rather trade or other economic aspects of globalisation.
For instance, if Turkey caught up to the level of social globalisation prevalent in France, meat consumption in Turkey would increase by about 20%. So our analysis takes into account the effect of rising incomes; otherwise, it could be confounded by the connection between higher incomes making both communication technology and meat products more affordable.
But while the study shows that globalisation affects diets, we could not establish a relationship between globalisation and increasing body weight. One explanation for this result could be that we investigated the question from a bird’s-eye perspective, not taking into account specific circumstances of countries.
So while, on average across the world, globalisation does not seem to be the driver of rising obesity, it may nonetheless play a role in specific countries.
The processed-food impact
An alternative interpretation of this unclear result is that other factors are responsible for the rising prevalence of overweight people around the world. For example, increasing consumption of processed foods is often associated with rising weight levels.
A study in the United States showed that Americans derive three quarters of their energy from processed foods, which contain higher levels of saturated fats, sugar, and sodium than fresh foods.
The increasing availability of processed foods is related to the rapid expansion of the retail industry. Modern logistics technology help retailers centralise procurement and inventory, which drives down costs and allows very competitive pricing.
After saturating Western markets, supermarkets began to spread to developing countries, which had greater growth prospects. Latin America, central Europe and South Africa saw their grocery store boom in the 1990s. Retailers later opened in Asia and are now entering markets in African countries.
An interesting, yet little explored, aspect in the discussion of processed foods is the role of multinational companies in offering unhealthy “Western diet”, such as fast food and soft drinks. Multinationals are one of the two market leaders in many emerging countries, including Brazil, India, Mexico, and Russia and they are known for substantial food and beverage advertising.
But it remains unclear whether people gain weight because they adopt a Western diet, or whether they largely preserve their taste for regional cuisines but change the nutritional composition of traditional recipes by adding more meat products, fats, and sugar.
Changing food habits: the role of labour markets
Apart from these supply-side factors, some studies on US data also associate overweight prevalence with changes in the labour market, particularly the increased participation of women.
But on the one hand, working mothers may have less time to prepare meals or to encourage their children to spend active time outside. And on the other, more working hours are likely to boost family income, which can positively influence children’s health through better access to health care, high-quality food, participation in organised sports activities, and higher quality childcare.
Since the decision to work is personal and closely related to individual characters and environment, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between work status and children’s overweight levels. Some studies report a positive effect, but reliable evidence remains scarce. These studies also focus on the role of working women but not on men when there is no evidence indicating a differential impact of working mothers versus working fathers.
People are also increasingly working rotating night shifts. According to a systematic review carried out by the International Labor Organization, about one in five of all employees in the European Union (25%) work night shifts, and night work often constitutes an integral part of the shift-work system.
Such schedules presumably render it more difficult to establish regular meal habits and may encourage frequent snacking to maintain concentration at work. Finally, because modern technology has greatly reduced physical demands of many workplaces, individuals must eat fewer calories to avoid weight gain.
While many globalisation-related explanations for obesity seem plausible, robust empirical evidence establishing a causal link is scarce. This is partly due to the fact that food and eating habits have multiple and often interrelated determinants, which makes it challenging to test the causal impact of a single factor. And it’s further aggravated by the fact that some of the proposed causes of obesity interact and potentially amplify each other.
Despite initial academic evidence then, the main drivers of the global rise in obesity levels remain, to a large extent, a black box.
Discover Fabrice Etile and his team’s research work on food with the Axa Research Fund.
In Australia, one in every two people has a chronic disease. These diseases, such as cancer, mental illness and heart disease, reduce quality of life and can lead to premature death. Younger generations are increasingly at risk.
Crucially, one-third of the disease burden could be prevented and chronic diseases often share the same risk factors.
A collaboration of Australia’s leading scientists, clinicians and health organisations has produced health targets for Australia’s population to reach by the year 2025.
These are in line with the World Health Organisation’s agenda for a 25% global reduction in premature deaths from chronic diseases, endorsed by all member states including Australia.
Today the collaboration is announcing its top ten priority policy actions in response to a recent health report card that identifies challenges to meeting the targets. The actions will drive down risk factors and help create a healthier Australia.
1. Drink fewer sugary drinks
One in two adults and three out of four children and young people consume too much sugar. Sugary drinks are the main source of sugar in the Australian diet and while many other factors influence health, these drinks are directly linked to weight gain and the risk of developing diabetes.
Almost 40% of children and young people’s energy comes from junk food. Children are very responsive to marketing and it is no coincidence almost two-thirds of food marketing during popular viewing times are unhealthy products.
Restricting food marketing aimed at children is an effective way to significantly reduce junk food consumption and Australians want action in this area. Government-led regulation is needed to drive this change.
Campaigns that highlight the dangers of smoking reduce the number of young people who start smoking, increase the number of people who attempt to quit and support former smokers to remain tobacco free.
More than 90% of Australian young people are not meeting guidelines for sufficient physical activity – the 2025 target is to reduce this by at least 10%.
Active travel to and from school programs will reach 3.7 million of Australia’s children and young people. This can only occur in conjunction with safe paths and urban environments that are designed in line with the latest evidence to get everyone moving.
6. Tax alcohol responsibly
The Henry Review concluded that health and social harms have not been adequately considered in current alcohol taxation. A 10% increase on the current excise, and the consistent application of volume-based taxation, are the 2017 priority actions.
People with a mental illness are over-represented in national unemployment statistics. The 2025 target is to halve the employment gap.
Unemployment and the associated financial duress exerts a significant toll on the health of people with a mental illness, and costs an estimated A$2.5 billion in lost productivity each year.
Supported vocational programs have 20 years of evidence showing their effectiveness. Scaling up and better integrating these programs is an urgent priority, along with suicide prevention and broader efforts.
8. Cut down on salt
Most Australian adults consume in excess of the recommended maximum salt intake of 5 grams daily. This contributes to a high prevalence of elevated blood pressure among adults (23%), which is a major risk factor for heart diseases.
Around 75% of Australian’s salt intake comes from processed foods. Reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025, via food reformulation, could save 3,500 lives a year through reductions in heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
9. Promote heart health
Heart disease is Australia’s single largest cause of death, and yet an estimated 970,000 adults at high risk of a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) are not receiving appropriate treatment to reduce risk factors such as combined blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications. Under-treatment can be exacerbated by people’s lack of awareness about their own risk factors.
National heart risk assessment programs, along with care planning for high-risk individuals, offer a cost-effective solution.
10. Measure what matters
A comprehensive Australian Health Survey must be a permanent and routine survey every five years, so Australia knows how we are tracking on chronic disease.
All of these policies are effective, affordable and feasible opportunities to prevent, rather than treat, Australia’s biggest killer diseases.