It appears to be counter-intuitive. That in a country as wealthy as ours, with a world-class health system, half of all Australians now have a chronic disease.
On the surface, this appears to be a failure of individual willpower but consider this.
If you had a class of 30 students and one was failing, you would look to that student to find out why.
However, if half of the child’s class was failing, we would not hesitate to look at the classroom, the curriculum, or the larger environment.
It would appear illogical to point the finger at half the class individually.
In Australia, the odds are stacked against us when it comes to our personal health.
Almost every moment of our day makes it more difficult to be healthy — and easier to increase our disease risk.
The good news is that we can all do our part to rebalance the deck for ourselves and our communities.
The Influence of Digital Marketing
We are being harvested for data from the moment we wake up and turn to our screens.
The average Australian child will have had 72 million data points collected about them by the age of 13 — everything from our address, age, and gender to our friends, preferences, emotions, and habits.
Even things we “like” online and products we only look at or consider purchasing.
This information is used to sell products that are tailored to our specific tastes and desires. It even targets us when we are most vulnerable emotionally — or hungry.
From a young age, marketing shapes our norms and preferences. Children as young as three can begin to learn about — and become addicted to — brands.
We all know that the habits we form as children tend to stick with us for the rest of our lives. This is why we spend so much time and money tracking, marketing, and influencing our children.
Our postcode is a powerful predictor of our life expectancy. The built environment around us influences our health in a variety of ways.
The average distance to a fresh food store in Melbourne’s wealthier suburbs, such as St Kilda, is 400 metres.
When compared to some lower-income postcodes, this distance is 14 kilometers.
Our ability to access and achieve good health is influenced by our access to green space and parks, healthcare services, public transportation, education, and employment.
Who can even read food labels?
Food labeling is another issue. Even if we can navigate the manipulative environment, we still need to understand the food itself, as well as where and from what environment it comes.
In Australia, we have a complicated system that is optional to the manufacturer. In comparison, some countries have clearly labeled, color-coded, and mandatory food labels that interpret and communicate the healthiness of the products.
When you consider the following, it’s no surprise that many of the less healthy products find their way into our baskets and into our homes:
There are over 30′ masked’ names for added sugar.
There are no restrictions on how much sugar or salt can be added to foods.
Even foods labeled “no added sugar” can contain up to 30% sugar by weight.
When it comes to eating healthier foods and beverages, perhaps the most significant and growing barrier for many of us is the cost.
While ultra-processed foods high in salt, fat, and sugar are becoming less expensive, fresh food, such as organically grown produce, is becoming more expensive. Add to that the time required to buy, prepare, and cook fresh food, and it becomes unattainable and unrealistic for busy families.
Unfortunately, no single solution exists.
While it is tempting to believe that we can simply build more hospitals and medicalize our way out of this situation, doing so requires a more serious commitment to reshaping the factors that exist outside of health care.
The good news is that it is technically feasible.
Denmark, for example, has taken bold steps to limit children’s advertising, to make biking and walking the paths of least resistance, and to strengthen their welfare systems.
This ensures that low-income families do not have to choose between a roof over their heads and fresh food on the table. As a result, Denmark’s obesity rate is roughly half that of Australia’s.
What is required is a rethink — as well as some action.
There are things that each of us can do at home to rebalance the deck for ourselves and our communities.
Knowledge is an excellent starting point. Armed with knowledge about what ultra-processed food is, how the supermarket influences our brains or the power of digital marketing, we may be able to take small steps to better protect ourselves.
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