International Conference on Obesity 2006
Speech by the Hon Tony Abbott at the International Conference on Obesity, Sydney, 4 September 2006.
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4 September 2006
Thank you very much Paul, thanks very much ladies and gentlemen.
Yes, this is Father's Day here in Australia and so far the only present that I have had was the company of my 15-year-old daughter, not in some indulgence, but in a charity fun run. So Paul, this is the kind of example that you have encouraged amongst the political establishment of our country.
Paul, thank you for your generous words. Delegates, thank you for your generous welcome. Don't underestimate the capacity and the quality of the man who's just addressed you. Professor Paul Zimmet cycled some 80 kilometres with me a few months back and I have to say was no slouch on a bike. So, well done, Paul.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is good that so many people from around the world have assembled here in this city to discuss this extraordinary issue, this issue which threatens to become the great public health problem of the modern era.
It seems that obesity is the emblematic epidemic of the modern world. It is rampant now in the Western world and it is becoming increasingly prevalent in other countries as well because we have the dietary instincts of hunter-gatherers, and yet these days we have the opportunities for self-indulgence of many evil potentates.
This problem which Paul has described as 'affluenza' is what happens when increasing wealth engineers exercise out of our lives and our lifestyles produce increasing reliance on fast food. And yes, two-thirds of Australian males are now overweight. One half of Australian females are now overweight, and a quarter of our school children are now overweight. A third of those are technically obese and as we know obesity is one of the principal factors in diabetes and that can reduce life expectancies by up to 15 years. Seven thousand Australians a year die from the cardio-vascular complications of obesity. That's 20 people a day dying in this country from being overweight.
So it is an extraordinarily serious problem but it's by no means simple to deal with. There are cultural, economic, and instinctual roots and they are not easily tackled. Obviously we need more exercise, obviously we need a better diet and yet we can't go back to the good old days of home-cooked meals all the time and compulsory school sport.
There are a number of areas where the Australian Commonwealth Government is attempting to make a difference. We are importantly trying to ensure that our health system is promoting wellness rather than simply treating sickness. These days it is possible to get a health check under Medicare, that is to say, an Australian Government subsidised health check if you are over 75, if you are Indigenous and a coming innovation is a mid-life health check for people with risk factors.
We're trying to ensure that people with chronic disease are better treated through things like GP Care Plans funded under Medicare. Team Care Plans funded under Medicare with access to diabetic educators, exercise physiologists, dieticians, physiotherapists and others are for the first time in our Government funded health insurance system.
We're trying to put some exercise back into our schools through things like the After School Hours Activity Program, through the Healthy School Communities Program designed to ensure that school canteens offer people a better diet which does not comprise as its staple cream buns and soft drinks.
We are trying to get better messages out there into the media through things like the ‘Go For 2 and 5’ fruit and vegetable advertising campaign, and the ‘Get Moving’ campaign designed to ensure that children understand that if they don't get an hour’s exercise or physical activity every day, they will damage their health. I have to say that my own teenage kids at least have noticed these campaigns, if only to the extent of saying, “Dad, why do you put such daggy things on TV?”
We're also importantly, starting to look at these questions of appropriate infrastructure. It's good, Paul, that you highlighted in your presidential address the fact that our burgeoning suburbs, our important arterial roads are not well configured for a society that is fighting the battle of the bulge. Every new major road should have a cycleway by its side and every new suburban development should have footpaths and not just roadways. These are very important moves that we must make if we are to do better in this important campaign to preserve the health of our people.
But you know in the end, it is about people. It's not principally about government because we can't have a government canteen at which everyone eats. We can't have a bureaucrat supervising every family's meal-time. We can't have compulsory exercise programs every morning, in every neighbourhood park. What we need to do is to give people more opportunities to do the right thing by themselves and more information about just what they put in their mouth could be doing to them.
You know, I have to say that it's really only in the last year that I have myself become as conscious as we all need to be of just what the food we eat can do to us. We need to make people more conscious of the simple equation about energy in and energy out. People need to understand that if the energy they take in exceeds the energy they put out, they will gain weight.
I have been accused of oversimplifying this, but one thing you understand as a politician is that it's the simple messages that people understand. It's those simple facts that people remember and what I am trying to remind people is that a Mars Bar equals at least one hour’s brisk walking. A Magnum ice cream, again at least one hour’s brisk walking and a large Big Mac Meal, more than three hours’ brisk walking to work off all of those calories.
We need to remember that the average adult needs but 2,000 calories or so a day. I can well remember the first time I looked at the back of the 600ml chocolate milk pack and noticed that I was consuming more than 600 calories in just one carton of chocolate milk. I love chocolate milk, I really do love chocolate milk and I don't want to stop people from drinking chocolate milk, but you know, I was regularly having two cartons of this stuff every day. A half of my daily calorie requirements just in a couple of cartons of chocolate milk. These are the sorts of things we need to understand if we are going to avoid the terrible problem which Paul has so eloquently highlighted and which you will be considering over the next few days.
As Paul said, this is probably the greatest single public health issue of our time. This conference is vital. You are in the forefront of the fight against obesity and as Paul said, if we do not do better in this area, our children will be the first generation in several hundreds of years to live shorter lives, unhealthier lives than their parents. That would be an awful judgement to pronounce against us - that we gave our kids a shorter life than we had ourselves.
That's why conferences like this are so important. That's why your work is so vital. That's why I am thrilled to be here to help officially open this 10th International Congress against Obesity.
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