National Obesity Strategy 2022–2032

The Federal Government’s National Obesity Strategy 2022-2032 is better late than never but lacks clear funding and disregards a successful South Australian model that was ripe for implementation, says leading social health policy expert, Dr Michelle Jones from Flinders University.

The National Obesity Strategy is a 10-year framework for action to prevent, reduce, and treat obesity in Australia. It focuses on prevention, but also includes actions to better support Australians who are overweight or living with obesity, in adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Few Australians meet the national guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behaviour, or diet.

“While this new framework addresses the importance of creating supportive, sustainable and healthy environments, it’s missing some key pillars of the Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle (OPAL) Program that enabled its success and begs the question: where will the money come from?” Dr Jones asked.

OPAL was funded by Australian, State and local governments and implementation of the program occurred locally, responding to identified local need, including community programs to encourage healthy eating and environmental upgrades to promote physical activity, such as walking trails, bike paths and play equipment.

For ten years the program effectively reduced incidents of childhood obesity in SA before funding was withdrawn.

“With OPAL, there was an existing model the Australian government could have implemented and made a commitment to funding to ensure its longevity but instead we get a piecemeal approach and no clear understanding of who will coordinate the strategy and who will pay for it,” Dr Jones said.

Without further action Australians face a future with more weight-related chronic diseases and early death, greater vulnerability to infectious diseases, and significant costs to health care, economic development, and community wellbeing.

The pandemic has shown that people with obesity or chronic diseases get sicker and are more likely to die from infectious diseases, and there is evidence that COVID continues to negatively influence Australians’ eating and sedentary behaviour patterns.

For both men and women, the biggest increase in excess weight gain is from childhood to early adulthood. Weight gain continues into middle age and by 45-54 years, 83% of men and 74% of women are overweight or obese.

The financial and other costs of obesity are significant and continue to rise, with major impacts on individuals and on communities, society, the economy, and natural resources and ecosystems:  obesity may cost an estimated $87.7 billion in just 10 years, and to cover the costs of obesity, each Australian pays an additional $678 in taxes each year.

Dr Jones also highlighted other shortcomings in the 10-year plan, including its over reliance on individual responsibility and a lack of legislation that would help bridge the advertising divide between big fast-food manufacturers and local food suppliers.

“Obesity prevention is not as simple as telling people to lose weight or get out and exercise. This ignores the socio-economic factors that underpin people’s health and underestimates the impact of the advertising industry and its ability to influence people’s choices,” says Dr Jones.

Neighbourhood food environments influence access to healthy options, with a much higher concentration of fast-food outlets in areas of most disadvantage and around schools. Larger supermarkets are less accessible in regional and remote areas than major cities.

“We currently have big food companies, especially fast food, able to advertise at any time of day and target children and at the same time representatives of fruit and vegetable growers can’t match this advertising buying power; this imbalance could be changed through legislation, rather than hopeful thinking.

“The health impacts of obesity are more far-reaching than alcohol and smoking, both of which are heavily restricted in terms of advertising. We should have laws that say what ads can be shown when, how food is packaged to children, and we should be subsidising our local fresh food suppliers to help them to advertise and ensure people are nudged into making healthier food choices.”

The National Obesity Strategy 2022–2032 can be found here: