A survey of 18,486 secondary school students at 322 schools across all Australian states except Western Australia has found that a significant proportion of students fall short of current, national dietary and physical activity recommendations for teenagers.
Study author Dr Victoria White, from the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at The Cancer Council Victoria, said the survey found that only 20% of students were meeting the daily requirement of four serves of vegetables while 39% were eating the recommended three daily serves of fruit.
“Our survey found consumption of unhealthy/non-core foods was high, with 46% of students having fast food meals at least twice a week, 51% eating snack foods four or more times per week, and 44% having high-energy drinks four or more times per week.
“We found that only 14% of students engaged in recommended levels of physical activity and about 70% exceeded recommended levels of sedentary behaviour,” she said.
The Cancer Council Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor Ian Olver, said the survey was an important new piece of evidence showing why obesity levels in Australia more than doubled between the mid-1980s and the mid-’90s.
“Obesity and overweight are important causes of cancer and, unless current trends in child and adolescent obesity are turned around, will have an unprecedented impact on future cancer incidence and mortality in Australia,” Professor Olver said.
“Government-backed measures to better research the problem of obesity and encourage healthier eating and more physical activity are likely to be far more effective if they are not competing with multimillion dollar advertising campaigns promoting unhealthy food,” he said.
“The results of this survey, combined with the growing evidence that food marketing reform is the most cost-effective intervention to reduce childhood and adolescent obesity, emphasise the need for government to restrict junk food advertising as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing tomorrow’s cancer burden through improved nutrition and physical activity in today’s 12 to 17 year olds.”
A glaring point to be seen here is this; mass marketing has a lot to answer for. Junk food advertising is a culprit but the real enemy is the food companies that advertise their products as being healthy, when they’re anything but healthy.
One example of the lie tactics food corporations use is the misleading labels found on breakfast cereal cartons, while another example is the use of low-fat labeling, which attempts to convince the consumer that the product is healthy because it contains little fat, when often the product is high in sugar, which is arguably more dangerous.
It is difficult (perhaps impossible) for a government to regulate advertising because marketing forces are able to execute their art with such diverse subtly i.e. suggestive advertising. Quite often an advertisement for food doesn’t mention anything about ingredients, and instead focuses on the Freudian-like status that comes with purchasing the product. So given this vague (but effective) style of marketing, it is clearly impossible for a government to regulate advertising – there’s simply too many grey areas.
I personally feel that regulation is not an ethical means anyway; who gets to say what information is withheld?
I propose a revolt against modern marketing forces, by individuals. The first step being awareness; realising that food companies exist to make money, period. Secondly, we need to educate ourselves about nutrition, learn about what we put in our mouth and how it effects us. And thirdly; we need to vote with our wallet and NOT buy the junk that food companies are passing off as healthy food.
Each of us can take the fight into our own hands, and send a clear message to irresponsible food companies that says; “you won’t fool me again!”