Head of Diabetes Research WA calls on community to rethink resistance to junk food marketing regulations

Diabetes Research WA executive director Sherl Westlund. Picture: Supplied
Diabetes Research WA executive director Sherl Westlund. Picture: Supplied

HELENA Valley’s head of Diabetes Research WA is asking the community to rethink any resistance to tighter regulation of junk food marketing, saying it could help reduce rates of type 2 diabetes.

Sherl Westlund said her charity, which funded state research into all forms of diabetes, had found many people considered calls for increased government intervention was taking away their personal freedom.

“Some parts of the community feel banning sugary drinks in the workplace and in hospitals and imposing a sugar tax, for example, take away their freedom of choice, but we believe these ideas are potentially very beneficial for the health of West Australians,” she said.

“We do understand this argument, but we also believe the marketing and discounting of various unhealthy foods has reached such a level that it can, for many of us, affect our conscious and subconscious choices.”

She questioned why some supermarkets continue to have sweet treats positioned at the same height as the average toddler.

Ms Westlund said the advertising of junk food was everywhere.

“You can’t escape it; it’s on the bus shelter as you walk past, on the umbrellas by the local swimming pool or surf club, on the fridges at the petrol station, at the checkout of the local cafe, it goes on,” she said.

“Our young children are even ‘rewarded’ for participation in sport and colouring-in competitions with vouchers for free or discounted ice creams, burgers and chips and they’re targeted with ads while watching TV and movies, and even live sport.”

She said two in three Australian adults and one in four Australian kids are overweight or obese.

“We do recognise eating is just one factor involved in health, obesity and type 2 diabetes – and we’re funding vital research to look for new ways to help reduce the rates of lifestyle-related diabetes – but it is a key one.”

She said junk food marketing regulation was less about telling people what to do and more about levelling the playing field.

An Obesity Australia report in 2015 showed if current trends continued, there would be 1.75 million deaths of people aged 20-plus caused by diseases linked to overweight and obesity between 2011-2050.

“The devastation that will cause for Australian families is massive and much of it can be prevented,” she said.

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