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“Down, down, prices are down”.

If you haven’t heard this song by now you probably live on Mars. Most of us find it either annoying or a really catchy tune, thanks to Status Quo from the seventies era.

And whilst Coles are reaping the rewards from their campaign to bring prices down, down, there is another reality facing all of us: Our obesity levels are, “Up, up and staying up”.

The level of obesity in Australia has now risen from 8% of the population in 1980, to over 23% in 2011.

And our kids are doing their ‘bit’ to help the ‘Up, up’ campaign: 1.5 million children under the age of 18 are now obese. Not just fat, but obese! That’s almost a quarter of all kids.

Recently the Heart Foundation launched a confronting campaign depicting the fat that we don’t see; from ‘inside’ our bulging stomachs.

As someone who has faced ‘terminal’ cancer and headed-up a number of well-known cancer charities, I am passionate about good health and the need to educate my fellow Australians about ‘good’ food and what is ‘lousy’ food. But why aren’t people listening?

Maybe it’s because it’s all too hard. After all one of the amazing things about our bodies is that the natural ‘live’ mechanism within all of us will always encourage us to eat; and to eat sweet, high simple-carbohydrate foods such as sugar for storage in order to protect ourselves from the possibility of a future famine. Clever.

No wonder it is so hard to say ‘no’ to another slice of pizza or another piece of chocolate when the brain is sending out strong signals to tell us, “Hey it’s OK. You deserve it and one more piece won’t really make that much difference.” Sadly, it will.

The other reason why we seem to be losing to war against fat is that we don’t know who to believe any more in helping us to make healthy food choices. Manufacturers of processed food essentially self-regulate themselves as to what they print on the food products they flog us at our favourite supermarkets.

Industry groups such as the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) have long argued against the three-tiered ‘traffic light’ system of grading foods from ‘green’ for healthy, to ‘red’ for unhealthy, arguing that industry is ‘responsible’ enough to regulate itself to ensure consumers are not mislead. Yeah, sure!

But the story of why we just can’t win actually has a more worrying side. Take the Heart Foundation who is a highly respected charity that does enormously good work in helping prevent heart disease. But like all charities-and believe me I know-a lack of money is the greatest obstacle to getting the message out there.

So it was to the foundation’s credit that they were smart enough to create the now-famous and influential Tick marketing campaign to help consumers make healthy food choices.

What many consumers don’t know of course is that the foundation actually sells the Tick and pockets over $2.5 million a year from providing endorsements. There is nothing wrong with that, as the money is used for a good cause.

But what happens when the need for more cash meets the power of some of the world’s biggest food corporations who desperately want their products to enjoy high credibility with consumers through endorsements such as the Tick?

Sadly for us, and our kids, things start to become more than just a little questionable.

Take a walk down the isle of any supermarket to the where cereals are displayed and there in front of you is a barrage of messages about ‘iron-man’, ‘high energy’ and ‘rich-in-nutrients’ food and so on.

My cousin, who has two young children, regularly buys Milo Cereal, from the giant Nestle Group, as it has been ‘awarded’ the Heart Foundation Tick. Yet a careful inspection of the ingredients panel shows this cereal contains over 28% of refined sugar. That’s almost one third of the entire contents of the box. And my cousin is feeding this stuff to her kids every morning?

The misinformation becomes even more confusing with the Heart Foundation stating, “….Sugar is not a ‘Tick’ criterion because ….. sugar is not directly linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or obesity. “

Yet, according to the highly respected nutritionist, Dr Rosemary Stanton, “Sugar has … now been officially listed as a heart disease risk.”

Dr Joe Kosterich in a recent column in The West Australian expressed real concern that there is too much focus on ‘just the fats’ without taking into consideration the problem of ‘added refined sugars’.

“The more we focus on ‘low fat’, the fatter we become”, wrote Dr Joe. “There is a reason for this, and the reason is sugar”.

Most of us know that food is big business. Money really counts, and food industry giants have the fire-power to overwhelm us all with whatever ‘health’ message their marketing gurus determine.

But when one of our most respected charities finds itself having to ‘award’ the Tick to high-sugar foods, you really have to wonder if the race to slow our obesity epidemic is already lost?

 

Ross Taylor is a cancer survivor, health advocate and is the author of several books including, ‘Creating Health..Yourself’ and the best-selling ‘Living Simply with Cancer’ that has sold over 60,000 copies.