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April 18, 2005

AUSTRALIA/GERMANY: Weight seen overtaking tobacco as health concern

Weight related issues will eventually overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death, an Australian senator has told a conference in Berlin.

Weight related issues will eventually overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death, an Australian senator has told a conference in Berlin.

According to the Australian Associated Press, Tasmanian Liberal senator Guy Barnett said 8000 Australians died annually from weight problems, but he feared that would rise dramatically, with 1.5m Australian children considered overweight or obese, putting them at risk of type 2 diabetes.

“The levels of obesity in children have more than tripled in the past two decades,” he said. Senator Barnett, who has type 1 diabetes, has made tackling obesity a personal crusade since being appointed to the Senate in February 2002.

He was invited to address the first International Congress on Pre-Diabetes and the Metabolic Syndrome in Berlin, attended by 2500 health experts from all over the world.

The congress heard drastic measures were needed from governments to prevent weight-related issues becoming the biggest health epidemic the world has seen.

While agreeing on the dire need for a solution, Australian experts differed on how the issue should be tackled.

Some called for a junk food tax and restrictions on fast food advertising, while others supported urban planning initiatives to encourage people to walk and cycle more.

Senator Barnett suggested removing soft drink vending machines from all primary schools and introducing tuckshop “smart cards”, which would work like a credit card and allow children to buy only from a selection of healthy foods.

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