Reasons for a health pact in the NT

By RUSSELL GUY
A report in the current medical journal Lancet, “Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink industries” reveals some reasons why the NT has a huge health burden.
The report identifies “unhealthy commodity industries” as those responsible for the sales and promotion of tobacco, alcohol, energy-dense foods such as burgers, frozen pizzas and pasta dishes, nuggets, sticks, crisps, biscuits, confectionery, cereal bars, carbonized and other sugared drinks and various snack products.

Apart from the well known effects of tobacco and alcohol misuse, these foods are high in fat, sugar and salt, are a cause of obesity, diabetes, high-blood pressure, cholesterol and related non-communicable diseases.
In 2010, globally, these accounted for 6.3m deaths (tobacco), 4.9m (alcohol) and 18m associated with ultra-processed foods.

The increasing marketing share of these commodities is estimated to accelerate “the nutrition transition”: a change from traditional diets of whole or minimally processed foods, such as fruit and vegetables, to highly processed foods and drinks.
Our highly industrialized society has developed a lifestyle replicated in the Aboriginal transition from a traditional diet of bush tucker, interrupted by the colonial advance through tribal lands, culminating in “sit-down” welfare and a diet of take-away processed food.
The Lancet report notes that “the relation between tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed foods and beverage corporations” shows the failure of public health policy makers and professionals to respond and how these corporations undermine public health.
One of the key strategies these corporations use is sponsorship.

One alcohol company observed by an Australian alcohol watchdog last week, markets a jacket emblazoned with their product advertising for four year olds and obtainable in giant retail outlets.

Professor Sir Ian Gillmore, chair of the United Kingdom’s Alcohol Health alliance, told ABC radio (18/2/13) that “kids are starting to drink younger than they used to. We’re seeing cases of cirrhosis of the liver, which takes maybe 10 years to develop in heavy drinkers, we’re seeing that in women sometimes intheir early 20s.”
Professor Gillmore observed that “the control of alcohol cannot be left to the free market” and that “there was no single magic bullet but the evidence is most strong around price, availability, and marketing”.

And one area where the UK is being innovative is looking at a minimum floor price. That’s where you can’t sell a standard drink below a certain amount. The great strength of that policy is that it won’t affect the price of a drink in a bar or a restaurant but it will tackle the very cheap supermarket drink that’s being sold literally at pocket money prices – beer and cider sometimes cheaper than bottled water.
Meanwhile, John Patterson, CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT) in a press release (15/2/13) called for “an historic compromise between the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments over alcohol policy in the Northern Territory.

“The lives of Territorians—black and white—hang in the balance.  We need to unite, and lead the nation by giving grog floor pricing a go.  We can lead the nation on grog, instead of going with the flow of the rivers of grog.”
The Lancet report claims that “public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by unhealthy commodity industries.”

The report calls for “a substantially scaled-up response from governments, public health organizations and civil society to regulate the harmful activities of these industries.”
The line-up of patients at remote community clinics was described to me recently by an Anmatjerre health worker as “waiting for it to open every day.”

She was en route to a course in Alice where she would learn more about being able to help pregnant mothers in her community.

It has often seemed to me, as a long-time observer of Indigenous health in the NT, that Indigenous societies are the canaries in the societal cage of Western civilization and when you think of how the take-away food precinct developed almost overnight in the early 1980s in Alice Springs, to be supplemented by new recruits like MacDonalds and the general fare found at roadhouses, along with the non communicable disease burden suffered by Indigenous, the claims of the Lancet report are disturbing, to say the least.

And then, of course, we have the alcohol issue, promoted 24/7, currently extant, but the tobacco industry was choked down.

PHOTOS: The Territory isn’t on its own when it comes to consuming too much of the bad stuff … bulk booze near Longreach, Queensland, in days gone by (above), and a junk food sign targeting kids in Adelaide today.

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10 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Ian Sharp
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Speaking of real info, did Janet ever get back to us readers of the Alice News forum on the Australia wide takeover of the IGA store group by Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation? I must have missed it (http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2013/02/08/letter-macklins-government-berates-nt-over-liquor-policies-but-funded-the-purchase-of-three-booze-shops-says-tollner/#comments)

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  2. Janet Brown
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Some people want the cake and don’t want to know how to make and bake it. Hope you enjoy your cup of tea or glass of red with your cake you just brought. You did not make it so you don’t care what’s in it. We all get it. Real information real knowledge is not stats so it holds no relevance to you. Eat drink and read stats. Leigh’s world

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  3. Russell Guy
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 6:37 am

    @ Leigh Childs. 26 Feb. Coke-Cola Amatil was named in the “Profits and Pandemics” Lancet report. It’s their cash cow, but Schweppes distribute bottled “spring water” in the NT and as far as I can see, it contains no additives.
    You are right about advertising, but point of sale is just as responsible. I have switched from so-called “fruit juices” to bottled water.
    I hope that bottled water gets a healthy market share over sugar-saturated drinks.
    It would have a huge benefit on public health budgets in the ultra-processed food and beverage pandemic.

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  4. Leigh Childs
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Janet, I said avert your eyes … as a service to you. I know you get upset at other people having a different opinion than your good self. And you have been known to go off on irrelevant tangents.
    My contribution was directed at the other people who might, just might be interested to hear what is happening in other parts of the world and how relevant it is to us.
    I really do not need to hear about your domestic habits, it is not relevant to this issue.

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  5. Janet Brown
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Leigh. It is great to provide info reading to expand our knowledge. But as I have said before many times. There are many parts to every problem. As a person who is gluten intolerant the swapping of sugar to wheat glucose in ice cream biscuits lollies and fast foods.
    And those reporting an over supply of sugar products not researching that the products that contain no sugar at all. It is wheat glucose.
    The amount of daily products with trans fats. Known to increase cancer in humans. This cancer component is even found in some pure olive oils, margarines, softer butters and so forth and that cancer product in most gluten free products. As a chef pure foods are better.
    I check all labeling to ensure no wheat products to ensure no trans fats is reducing the amount of products I can eat off the shelf as snack foods.
    Research how potato chips are produced. Caustic soda is used to clean and whiten the potato.
    And to ensure a better salable product. And then coated with flour to finish product for the deep fryer. Then cooked in vegetable oil highly saturated with trans fats. One of the most popular take-aways.
    At home I have an air fryer and use fresh potatoes. I cook in real butter or lard. And yes we need to fix the products that requires our govt to ensure that are foods are produced without the use of toxic poisons. The sweets are made from sugar.
    If you research sugar (raw sugar). Not over refined sugar. Is a natural antibiotic needed to ensure healthy internal systems.
    Jack and snack food is fine. It is what they have added to the foods and how foods are prepared is the issue.
    Low fat products have a real effect of triggering the body to store fat hence weight gain and excess skin fat in the pinch test.
    Fast food is a part of life in our fast lane lifestyles. Snacking in times of quick fix hunger. It is never good to attack the outcomes when you fail to attack the source of the problem?

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  6. Leigh Childs
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you Russell for another thoughtful article.
    Janet, avert your eyes now as I will be referring to a published article concerning public health, put forward by 220,000 Doctors in Britain. They recommend, in fact demand, lots of restrictions.
    Russell you may be interested in an article published in the latest Guardian Weekly [22-28 Feb, page 15]
    British Doctors, yes 220,000, are calling on the government to implement a number of recommendations to tackle obesity which they say is the biggest crisis facing the NHS [National Health Scheme]. They recognise that big business is controlling the country’s food agenda.
    This is an abbreviated version of their recommendations.
    1. A 20% tax on fast food. Trialled for a year [estimated tax yield for one year, one billon Pounds!]
    2. Councils to limit fast food outlets near schools.
    3. NHS to instigate weight management programs.
    4. Hospitals to implement nutritional standards for patients and staff and abolish fast food vending machines.
    5. Health visitors to advise parents on good healthy food.
    6. All schools to have healthy canteens [tuckshops].
    7. Ban fast food advertising on TV until after 9pm.

    This is a discussion Australia needs to have too. Unethical advertising, aimed at children needs to be reined in.
    In an interview with a marketing executive from Coca-cola Amatil, it was stated that they were aiming at doubling their sales in the next 10 years. As they are already the market leaders, by a huge margin, this means that we will be subjected to some very heavy advertising in the years to come. Have you noticed that there is adverting now with Coke bottles on the dinner tables. Coke is taking the NT government to court over the container deposit scheme, an indication of how powerful these companies have become.
    Governments should be protecting us from the rampant excesses of big business but both [all] sides … can’t.

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  7. Russell Guy
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Your most philosophical posting to date, Janet. It reveals more than a few contradictions over the past year of monitoring your contributions to the alcohol debate, but as you say, we are human and nobody is perfect.
    However, medical science such as remote dentistry advances in our own country through humans who extract data from such reports as I have referred to and long-term deficiencies in this area are, with the help of the RFDS, being corrected.
    My story is based on a medical journal report that exposes “unhealthy commodity industries” in the free market, mainly the three that are contributing to a crisis in global public health which has been building during the closing stages of the modern era.
    In the few days since its publication, there have been several stories in the NT press, one of which revealed that take-away food outlets do not put the contents of their products on the packaging, but only on the internet.
    I have since read the packaging of various food products with greater detail, only to be surprised at the high level of salt (sodium) and sugar in those that do declare it.
    Rather than accept your labeling of me as an “extremist,” or a member of the “loopy left” as others have insinuated, I would prefer to be known, at least to myself, as someone who is moderating their intake of fats, salt and sugar and improving their health to the point where I am not a drain on public health, such as was manifestly the case before the tobacco industry was regulated.
    One of the reasons why various reports such as the one I quoted are published, is so that members of the public can be informed and perhaps make better choices on just what it is that is being offered to them by way of the free market. It’s a case of “buyer beware” for those of us who have not had such a good start in life.
    One of the things which I find most distasteful about your postings is that you accuse me and others, of making claims which when requested to substantiate, go unanswered.
    There are numerous counseling services available in Alice Springs which may help you in dealing with your pain or perhaps your church might help.
    I sincerely hope that you do something about your condition as stated, rather than give in to the “unhealthy commodity industries” which seek to make profits while creating pandemics of non-cummunicable diseases among the low and middle income bracket.
    Our children deserve better from our governments on this score, but as Chief Minister Mills said the night he was guest of honour at the Australian Christian Lobby “Meet the Candidate” forum in pre-election Darwin, governments need public input. You cannot say that I haven’t tried to give them some.

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  8. Posted February 23, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Thanks, Russell, for your informative and thought-provoking article. And thanks also to you too, Janet, for your very entertaining rant. Always good for a laugh in these dark times …..

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  9. Janet Brown
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Let’s ban living, breathing or better still let’s introduce military law and keep the people clean and healthy. Let’s put Russell in charge he will ensure we all live his way after all he has the answers to wrong living and forget about free will that is what is destroying our existence.
    Just like any extremist Russell is intent on forcing his beliefs on the rest of us. Yes, we have issues yes we have addictions and yes we make mistakes and guess what: That means we are human not robots or zombies.
    Acceptance assistance and support is needed for all people and from all people. Life is hard enough without people out there pointing the finger at you for your style.
    We all do our best and sometimes the struggle is too much and escapism is the only answer to ease the pain.
    Focus on why addictive behaviours are increasing. Housing, income, learned behaviours, poor parenting and this list goes on and on.
    So what is the answer? There is no one answer to fit all. And banning everything is an act of dictatorship. Easy to focus on what people are doing wrong, harder to find focus on why. Cause and effect are all different. Addiction is not the answer but it is the way station in time of depression, loss, isolation and hopelessness.
    Russell, your way of pointing out the obvious will only turn the way station into their permanent lifestyle. I don’t have the answer but I have empathy for loss lives.

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  10. Aaron Schultz
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Great article Russell. Much wisdom on these issues. It’s time to change the culture in which Australians view food and drink. Getting advertising away from out TV screens and sports fields will be a good start.
    Kind regards
    Aaron Schultz
    Tasmania

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