First steps in a national crisis will be local

Professor Rob Moodie is one of the nation’s leading public health advocates, a man who it could, not unfairly, be claimed to have saved thousands of lives through his work in anti-smoking and preventative health.

Now, the professor is firmly setting his sights on a new enemy that is proving every bit as destructive.

The obesity crisis gripping Australia – and impacting on regional areas particularly hard – shows no sign of abating and clearly not enough is being done. 

The facts about the extent and gravity of the issue are not new. 

The poorer you are the more likely you are to be overweight or obese. 

The further you live from the Sydney CBD the worse it becomes.

Alongside these figures are the rates of sugary drink consumption, which largely mirror this divide. 

The so-called obesity time bomb often refers to a generation of young people where one-in-four is obese and who will not live as long as their parents.

But in other ways the bomb has already gone off – in the escalating cost for hospitals, in the associated illness and mental health issues, the skyrocketing Type 2 diabetes cases and many debilitating effects felt by our community.

The tobacco legacy is worth revisiting. By 2004 when the high smoking rates of the 1940s to ‘70s were being felt by the health system and estimated to cause 15,000 deaths nationwide, it came at the staggering social cost of $31 billion. 

The tobacco lesson is laudatory because despite the might of the tobacco giants and the entrenched nature of the habit in our society, something was done and we all breathe the better for it now..

No one has advocated a tax on sugar is a magic solution to the wide and complex problem of obesity, but because these ingredients do make a strong contribution to the condition it is one decisive and effective step, that like plain cigarette packaging, can help swing the pendulum of change. 

Unfortunately on this issue, the sugar tax is also a crucible of leadership for the federal government and it has been found sadly wanting.  

But if the lack of leadership at a federal level on this issue seems depressingly like groundhog day, then what Professor Moodie was advocating this week has a new energy; that the fight needs to be conducted on a local level.