Sydney Law School co-hosts expert consultation on overweight, obesity, diabetes and the law
17 April 2014
Sydney Law School and the Boden Institute for Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders at the University of Sydney have co-hosted an expert consultation on overweight, obesity, diabetes and the law with the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).
The meetings, which took place over three days (9-11 April) were co-sponsored by the Western Pacific Regional Office of the World Health Organisation in Manila and took place at WHO headquarters in Manila. The consultation was the first-ever of its kind and brought together experts in public health and health law with consumer rights advocates and other civil society representatives.
According to the Diabetes Atlas produced by the International Diabetes Federation, there were 138 million adults with diabetes in the Western Pacific region in 2013, of whom 50% were undiagnosed. In the same year, 187 million global deaths were attributable to diabetes, with 44% of these deaths occurring in people less than 60 years old.
The Western Pacific region includes China, which is home to the highest number of cases (over 98 million cases) as well as the pacific islands, which have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world (up to 37.5%). Left unchecked, the number of diabetes cases in the region could reach 201 million by 2035 - over 11% of adults.
The consultation was financially supported by AusAID, which funded the participation of ten participants from Pacific Island countries.
According to Roger Magnusson, Professor of Health Law & Governance at Sydney Law School, law could have a significant and beneficial impact on diabetes and its risk factors in the region.
“Each country will need to develop its own priorities for responding to obesity and diabetes, including through laws, and regulatory and fiscal policies”, he said. “The scope is wide. For example, governments could raise taxes on tobacco and use the revenues to establish a Health Promotion Foundation with a wide mandate to deliver programs at the grassroots level, to fund research and other activities.”
“Governments could impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages - a proposal currently before the Philippines Parliament, or take steps to moderate the advertising of unhealthy foods to which children are exposed. They could regulate the labelling of pre-packaged and fast food to facilitate healthier choices by consumers, or require food that is sold or made available in schools to meet minimum criteria for good nutrition”.
“From what I have seen, the region has a firmly established junk food culture”, said Professor Magnusson. When you look through the gate of the WHO compound in Manila out into the street, one of the first things that catches your eye is a KFC sign. And I couldn’t help noticing the specially designed display unit in a supermarket a few blocks away. The display sign read “Nutrition Power for Kids”, and it was stocked with Froot Loops and Frosties, KoKo Crunch and Milo cereal. All this might be business as usual for the global food giants, but the reality is that poor diets are causing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes - not to mention dental caries - and many of today’s kids will suffer ill-health and have their lives shortened as a result”.
“Public health laws need to address the health challenges of the day”, said Professor Magnusson. “That has always been the challenge of public health law. Today, one of the most important and difficult challenges is the combined problem of obesity, diabetes and poor diets”, he said.
On 29 April 2014, Sydney Law School and the Charles Perkins Centre will co-host a symposium entitled: Who’s afraid of the nanny state? Freedom, regulation, and the nation’s health. Featuring speakers from the US, UK, NZ and Australia, this event includes theoretical perspectives on government’s role and new approaches to regulation which minimize intrusion on individual choices and lifestyles. The symposium will also address the reality of industry’s role in influencing lifestyles and in some cases, creating markets for the risk factors for the diseases we most want to avoid. For full details of the program, and to register, see https://whatson.sydney.edu.au/events/published/whos-afraid-of-the-nanny-state
Sydney Law School offers a Master of Health Law (MHL) that is available to law graduates, health professionals and other approved applicants. The program is currently accepting applications for second semester 2014, and for 2015. For further information, see http://sydney.edu.au/law/cstudent/coursework/healthlaw.shtml or contact Professor Cameron Stewart or Professor Roger Magnusson.
For more information on the Western Pacific Regional Action Plan on Noncommunicable Diseases, see http://www.wpro.who.int/noncommunicable_diseases/about/ncd_regional_action_plan/en/
For more information on the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders, a WHO Collaborating Centre, see http://sydney.edu.au/medicine/research/units/boden/index.php
For more information on the Charles Perkins Centre, a university-wide centre that is focused on easing the burden of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, see http://sydney.edu.au/perkins/