Our National Preventive Health Strategy Submission


Yesterday we submitted our feedback on the consultation paper for the National Preventive Health Strategy.

A HUGE thank you to everyone who participated in our latest survey which helped us to identify and advocate for the priorities that you wanted to see displayed within the upcoming strategy.

Your responses were a vital element of our submission and we couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you! Who knows, maybe some of your feedback even made it into the submission as a quote? (anonymously of course).

You can read our full submission below…

Parents’ Voice’s Submission

<Questions 1-3 respondent information>

Vision and Aims of the Strategy

Please review pages 12 & 13 of the Consultation Paper, which outlines the vision and aims of the Strategy, before completing this question.

Question 4: Are the vision and aims appropriate for the next 10 years? Why or why not?

Parents’ Voice supports the vision and aims of this strategy but are concerned that they are too broad and all-encompassing to be achievable within the 10 year timeframe. Targets and actions will need to be much clearer and more specific for the vision and aims to be feasible. Therefore, we feel that there is a need for an accompanying implementation plan to be created in conjunction with this strategy.

With one in four Australian children above a healthy weight, we strongly support aim 1: Australians have the best start in life. However, we feel that this aim, as well as others, focuses predominantly on individual health behaviours at the expense of tackling broader social and commercial determinants of health.

Instead we’d recommend a broader approach which focuses on building healthy communities, as well as encouraging individual behaviour change. This combined approach will yield better health and wellbeing outcomes for more Australians.

The priority for me is to have an environment that is supportive of good health…” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

Goals of the Strategy

Please review page 14 of the Consultation Paper, which outlines the goals of the Strategy, before completing this question.

Question 5: Are these the right goals to achieve the vision and aims of the Strategy. Why or why not? Is anything missing?

Parents’ Voice supports the goals laid out in this strategy but feel that it is missing opportunities for co-design and community engagement. The six goals also do not address online environments and how digital platforms affect Australian’s (especially young Australian’s) health outcomes.

We feel that goal 5, once again places responsibility on individuals instead of systems manipulated by, and in favour of, corporate interests. The responsibly lies with Government to regulate in favour of Australians and their health, it should not be purely up to the individual to navigate our increasingly obesogenic environments.

“The priority should be policy and systems change and initiatives to protect children from predatory industries and promote their health and wellbeing as intervening early in life is critical” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

Therefore, we strongly support place-based approaches and the creation of supportive environments as outlined in goal 3 & 4, in particular we believe that these healthy environments need to be supported by national and state-based policies. For example: stronger school tuckshop policies and healthy food retail environments.

“[We need] governments actively leading (not appeasing the processed food industry or passing an unfair share of responsibility to individuals); mandating change in an industry where self-interest is a stumbling block; focusing [on] young people and settings where significant gains could be readily made.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

A key challenge to achieving these goals is clear lines of responsibly, oversight and coordination. Parents’ Voice strongly supports the development of a national organisation or task force, charged with overseeing and monitoring the attainment of these goals. We also recommend secure funding for Australia’s prevention workforce.

Coordination and partnerships will be key, in particular a skilled and well-resourced prevention workforce.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

Mobilising a Prevention System

Please review page 16 & 17 of the Consultation Paper, which outlines the seven enablers to create a more effective and integrated prevention system, before completing this question.

Question 6: Are these the right actions to mobilise a prevention system?

Parents’ Voice supports the enablers as outlined in the consultation paper but has concerns about the influence of commercial interests in the prevention partnerships. The processed food industry in particular has manipulated our food system and puts profit ahead of the health of Australian children. This is a conflict of interest that cannot be managed, and they should not be involved in the prevention activities and the design of policy or practice.

“Businesses should not be able to make profits at the expense of our most vulnerable.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2018).

Instead, Parents’ Voice’s partnership practices should act as an example of preventive partnerships operating without corporate interest and should be used as a model for building agenda-free partnerships within this strategy.

…Parents’ Voice has no agenda other than protecting children – and therefore have much more validity than suggestions from groups (or individuals) with a commercial conflict of interest.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

Furthermore, we fully support the emphasis made on fostering “stronger partnerships between researchers and policy makers to improve translation of evidence” and would like to highlight the importance of garnering political action to bridge the gap between what we know and what we do in practice.

We also feel that it would be beneficial to support Australians to advocate for change on their own behalf, as well as supporting member-based advocacy groups (like Parents’ Voice) as part of the Information and literacy skills enabler.

Boosting Action in Focus Areas

Please review page 19 of the Consultation Paper, which refers to the six focus areas that have been identified to boost prevention action in the first years of the Strategy and to impact health outcomes across all stages of life, before completing this question.

Question 7: Where should efforts be prioritised for the focus areas?

Parents’ Voice supports the six focus areas outlined in the strategy, with extra importance placed on the improved consumption of a healthy diet and increased physical activity focus areas, as these align most closely with early years intervention and are therefore expected to have a higher rate of impact.

However, we feel that these priorities once again focus on individual behaviour change and don’t capture environmental barriers such as access to affordable, healthy food and green area for physical activity. We would therefore suggest making a broader priority area that focuses on the “reduction of overweight and obesity” in Australia. The addition of this focus area would also allow for this strategy to build on the National Obesity Strategy which is currently under development.

After consulting our parent members further on these two focus areas (1. Improved consumption of a healthy diet and; 2. Increased physical activity), we have identified 4 key actions that they want to see implemented. Along with these 4 recommendations, we also want to state our endorsement for the full recommendations of the Tipping the Scales report and the Healthier Start for Victorians Consensus Statement.

The following 4 priorities have come from a 2020 survey of Parents’ Voice members curated specifically in response to this consultation paper. The quotes come from aforementioned 2020 survey and a 2018 survey for the Senate Select Committee into the Obesity Epidemic in Australia. The priorities have been numbered in order of importance:

1. Introduce government restrictions to protect children from exposure to unhealthy food and drink marketing.

One of Parents’ Voice’s key concerns is unhealthy food and drink advertising to children. These ads surround children and government legislation is needed. Since 2004 Parents’ Voice has worked to highlight the impact of unhealthy food advertising on Australian children and the failure of the advertising industry’s self-regulation to protect children.

“The evidence is clear that food marketing negatively impacts children’s food consumption. Children continue to be exposed to high levels of food advertising during peak TV viewing times. Current regulations do not sufficiently cover the extent and impact of children’s food marketing exposures.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2018)

I believe advertising to children needs to be more regulated with stricter controls within digital platforms.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

2. Establish obesity prevention as a national priority with a national taskforce, sustained funding, and ongoing monitoring, evaluation and reporting of key measures.

Parents believe that a well-resourced national taskforce will hasten the rate of healthy change and provide national coordinated support.

Increased investment and governance is required on a national level, for policy development. A top-down approach is required in order to empower change on an individual and community level.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

National government needs to set national expectations and benchmarks to guide and support action at lower levels.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

We must approach it from a systematic approach and not just rely on personal behaviour change(Parents’ Voice Survey, 2018)

3. Place a health levy on sugary drinks to increase the price by 20%.

The introduction of a health levy on sugary drinks has strong support amongst Australian parents. In fact, our surveys show that more than 90 per cent of our parent members are in support of such a levy.

In addition, international case studies have proven the effectiveness of using price levers as a way of decreasing consumer demand (similar to tobacco) and have demonstrated how income generated from the levy can be redirected to health promotion and prevention activities or could fund a national taskforce on obesity.

“We know that sugary drinks are unnecessary, so by increasing the price, the sale and consumption will decrease.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

I think a levy will bring about the most change and is proving to be somewhat successful overseas. We need more direct strategies to impact on consumers (e.g a levy) but also in conjunction with other strategies so they support one another (e.g. food reformulation and education).” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2018)

4. Improve the Health Star Rating System and make it mandatory.

Unfortunately, many parents do not trust the HSR system because in its current form it appears too easy for food companies to take advantage of loopholes, manipulate ratings of products or choose not to partake in the system at all.

In its current state the health star rating system does not provide adequate information…The fact it is voluntary adds to its flaws.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

In fact, 81 per cent of our surveyed parents agreed (in a 2017 survey) that making the HSR system mandatory would help them to make quicker and healthier decisions.

Mandatory regulated Health Star reform would be a fantastic achievement” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

Continuing Strong Foundations

Please refer to page 20 of the Consultation Paper, which highlights the importance of continuing and building on current prevention activity, before completing this question.

Question 8: How do we enhance current prevention action?

A current deficiency in prevention health and improving nutrition and physical activity is long term funding consistency. We support the Public Health Association of Australia’s campaign for 5 per cent of the overall health budget be allocated annually to prevention.

Sustained funding will allow programs to work in collaboration with their communities to drive long term systemic change. Parents’ Voice knows that the greatest outcomes come when local communities, funded and supported by governments, take charge and improve their food and physical activity environments together.

Sustainable change needs to come from whole-of-community / policy makers.” (Parents’ Voice Survey, 2020)

Question 9: Any additional feedback/comments?

Parents’ Voice is a network of over 10,000 parents from across Australia who advocate for improved food and physical activity environments for Australian children. Parents’ Voice is financially supported by Diabetes Victoria and VicHealth.

Parents’ Voice appreciates the opportunity to comment on the National Preventive Health Strategy Consultation Paper. Our answers to the previous questions are on behalf of our 10,000 parents and reflects their views and efforts to reduce the burden of obesity on Australian children.

More than 1 in 4 Australian children are above a healthy weight. These children are at greater risk of becoming obese adults and therefore at greater risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Urgent action is needed to ensure that this generation does not become the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

Finally, parents were keen to highlight that measures which shame children about their weight but do little to address the underlying social and commercial determinants of health. These shaming practices are detrimental to the mental health and wellbeing of all children and needs to be stopped.

Instead we should work on creating a world where all children (not just those at risk of poor health outcomes) are supported to maintain a healthy body and mind as they grow into adulthood and we feel that this strategy brings us one step closer to that goal.

If you have any questions about our submission, please email our team at hello@parentsvoice.org.au.

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