I was listening to the finance segment with Ross Greenwood on the channel 9 Today Show recently. He was talking about the national debt in Australia and how soon, taxes would need to go up in order to pay the interest of the government loans. GST, personal and company tax would be affected. He said the biggest expense is the health system and with a growing population and health crisis, it was only going to get worse.I felt a little pissed off, because I don’t use the health system unless there is an emergency (accident), I look after myself through food and lifestyle and I doubt I would be a burden on the health system, so why should my taxes go up? I also thought that it’s not that hard to change the health of an individual so it can’t be that hard to change the health of a nation. Surely – one person at a time. We know that food has a huge part to play in health, so why not change the food system? Perhaps I was being a little naïve as there is more at play here such as money, greed and politics being the main players in the health crisis. The same week I got an email from my friends Sharny and Julius from sharnyandjulius.com. Julius thinks differently about every aspect of his life and he had just read Obesty: A National Epidemic and its Impact on Australia. Before I tell you what Julius said, let’s first look at the contents of the report by Obesity Australia. Firstly, who is Obesity Australia? They are a group of scientist who have a mission to drive change in the public perceptions of obesity, its prevention and its treatment by:
- Providing leadership and independent advice to inform sound policy
- Building recognition of the personal, social and economic effects of obesity
- Changing entrenched attitudes
- Independently evaluating what works and what doesn’t work in the Australian context
- Showcasing the best science on how and why obesity occurs so it provides a base for effective community response and government funding.
We will highlight current knowledge of obesity, drawing on a wealth of scientific and medical knowledge, based on research reviewed by our Scientific Advisory Council, experts in their field around Australia & New Zealand.
Obesity Australia is served by a Board who have demonstrated leadership in their field – public affairs, politics, health and public policy.That all seems very nice and dandy and the picture below is on their mission statement page.
The report put out by Obesity Australia doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the above photo and their conclusions are by no means about health. Firstly the report put out by Obesity Australia was funded by an unrestricted grant from Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals P/L and the scientific advisory committee for the report included members of Baker IDI – an organisation supported by many drug companies as well as research professors from universities around Australia. In the report, obesity is described by WHO as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that present a risk to an individual health. It is measured by a BMI of 30. Obesity in Australia, England and the USA has risen rapidly since 1990. Obesity Australia believes that the drivers of obesity are that 90% of the population are predisposed genetically to be fat and obese and that it is the imbalance of calories in, energy out. My question: if 69.7% of the male population, 56.7% of the female population and 25.7% of our children are overweight and obese, what is the other percentage of the population doing with the obese genes but are not overweight or obese? Therefore genetics may not be the main predictor. The Obesity Australia report also points out that epigenetics plays a part, their whole blame is on the mother, her pregnancy and what she eats. A pregnant woman can’t eat too little or too much or the result will cause obesity as the child grows into an adult. Parenting is also at fault in the first two years of life. Basically the report says if you got it wrong during pregnancy and childhood then corrective efforts later in life would be in vain. There are many complications to obesity as outlined in the report including, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, kidney dysfunction, type 2 diabetes, cognitive impairment and depression, cancer, fatty liver disease and osteoarthritis. The management of obesity should be prevention and intervention, lifestyle modifications, medications and surgery. The cost of obesity in Australia is estimated to be a whopping $58.2 billion where the federal government bore the cost of 34.3%, the individual 29.4%, families 19.2%, state government 5.1%, employers .1% and the rest of society 11.8%. The conclusion of the report was to define obesity as a ‘disease’ and to gain additional federal support to stop the epidemic. This in turn would save billions of Australian tax dollars and improve the health and wellbeing of Australia, now and for future generations. Therefore the report says there is no time to wait. Two things are key, states the report; firstly education in food and health literacy and secondly effective and safe obesity therapies with minimal side effects. The solution is to find medications for the disease of established obesity. The two key drivers are media and medical practitioners directing pharmaceutical, accredited multi faceted weight maintenance programs. If you are not alarmed by the conclusions then you should read it again. Firstly – much of the media is owned by companies that also have an interest in pharmaceutical companies. Doctors do between two and 12 hours of nutrition in their entire university course and are taught to diagnose and treat with medications. The executive call to action is for the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and medical colleges to formally recognise obesity as a disease. It was Julius who bought up the following facts to me.
That Novo Nordisk (the funders of the report) in May 2013 proudly informed investors and shareholders that liraglutide (a new drug) was in phase three of clinical trials as a weight loss drug. The press release also stated that this drug had the potential to earn $20.00 per obese patient per day. If we average that out over the Australian Obese population that equates to 6.3 million people at $20.00 per day which totals $6.6 billion. That’s a nice yearly income for one drug, for one company.The fact that the report said that the federal government was to come to the party was in fact saying that the cost of this drug to the Australian people should be paid for by the government through the – prescribing benefits scheme (PBS). Now here is the clincher. The only way that is going to happen is if obesity is recognised as a ‘disease’ by the AMA and medical schools around the country. Even a third grader could easily diagnose obesity with the BMI (body mass index) then prescribe the drug liraglutide – it’s a no brainer. On top of that, Julian also pointed out that by recognising obesity as a disease, prevention and intervention for obesity could also receive greater funding from both public and private health. While the American Medical Association recognized obesity as a disease in 2013, the Australian Medical Association is divided on the classification. The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Steve Hambleton, said that while the AMA has and will continue to consider the proposal, Australia would not be following suit just yet.
“We have to ask, does making it a disease change the way we interact with it? Also, if you make this a medical portfolio, then it lets the other portfolios off the hook. Preventing and treating obesity needs to be a whole of government approach.” I’d say that’s passing the buck Dr Steve.
Associate Professor Tim Gill of the Boden Institute said that despite countless reports on the obesity epidemic, very few recommendations have been adopted and those that have are now being opposed.
The way I see it, is that obesity is an iatrogenic predicament perpetuated by many factors each having a part to play in the sickness of the human body, which in turn causes physical and mental ill health. The food, chemical and drug industry have a lot to answer for.
The most empowering thing to do about the obesity epidemic is not to be a part of it. Don’t wait for a label, a medical diagnosis or for the government to step in. It is about becoming educated about food, medicine and lifestyle and realise that our evolutionary bodies require certain things for health. Evolutionary foods, sunlight, movement, sleep and relationships, these are the cornerstones to stopping the epidemic. Become the person that leads your family away from the current trend of sickness, and create an atmosphere of health and wellbeing that is compelling, so by example we may just be able to change the direction Australia is now heading in.
Happy Changing Habits