I find it disappointing that author David Gillespie, in his recent article, “The real truth on childhood obesity” has sought to characterise the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity report as nothing more than a telemarketer “weigh-in”.
I’m not sure how the highly respected research teams from the CSIRO and the University of South Australia, who designed and conducted the survey, would feel about being called telemarketers, or about having their ethical integrity questioned, with his chiding that the survey’s results had been cooked up by big multinational food companies trying to “pull the wool” over consumer’s eyes.
The survey, the most comprehensive of its kind since 1995, collected data on food intake, physical activity levels and the physical measurements of more than 4,000 children across Australia. Children aged between 2-16 years were initially interviewed face-to-face in their home by trained researchers, with parents or guardians responding for children below the age of nine years. Participants were asked to complete a 24-hour food recall, which required them to list all of the food, beverages and supplements consumed in the 24-hour period prior to the survey. Participants were then followed up with a telephone interview 7-21 days later and asked to complete another 24-hour food recall. Not exactly a telemarketer weigh-in!
Mr Gillespie’s tirade demonstrates two things: one he has failed to read the report’s methodology, and two, that he, and others like him who continue to undermine the role of industry in helping to find solutions to difficult problems, are now becoming part of the problem themselves - sitting on the sidelines throwing spears at those that dare to stick their heads up rather than offering constructive advice.
Mr Gillespie is correct in stating that the food industry helped to fund the study, however, so did the federal government. The study was one-third funded by the food and grocery sector, one third funded by the Federal Department of Health and Ageing, and one third funded by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, $3 million in total - a small price to pay to gain a better understanding of the health issues affected Australian children.
His insistence that the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) is capable of exerting influence over survey’s results - despite the involvement of two government departments, one expert government agency, and a University of South Australia research team - says more about his understanding of the report than it does about the AFGC’s so-called powers of manipulation.
Whether Mr Gillespie likes it or not, the survey shows that the number of young Australians who are overweight or obese has plateaued in the last 10 years - there is NO spiralling childhood obesity epidemic; however, that does not mean that there isn’t a problem.
Let’s get one thing straight. The Australian Food and Grocery Council, like many Australians, believes that any level of childhood obesity is of concern.
But, it seems that the old adage that if you are not apart of the solution, then you are apart of the problem still holds much currency in contemporary society.
As Mr Gillespie has demonstrated, the food and beverage industry is often cast as a pariah when conducting constructive debate on public health issues. Our critics would have you believe that the sector actively sets out to deceive our customers into eating unhealthy foods, and that any proactive measures industry takes to promote positive public health messages are nothing more than just another shrewd marketing gimmick designed to hook unsuspecting consumers.
In short, to our critics, the food industry is not just a part of the problem, rather we are the problem. This could not be any further from the truth.
Those in the food industry have long recognised that our direct and in many cases long term relationships with customers puts us in a strong position to be a force for good when it comes to promoting positive public health messages: that is exactly what we have been doing and what we intend to continue to do.
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