John Menadue.  Alcohol and junk food – winning at the expense of our health.

Apr 7, 2015

If you seriously follow almost any major Australian sport as I do, you will be conscious of the saturation alcohol and junk food advertising.

And in the run up to the centenary of Gallipoli there are no holds barred to link heroes and booze… VB now have a new television advertisement filmed at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance which tells us to bow our heads to the 16 th Battalion,AIF at Gallipoli and raise a glass of VB to their heroism. How tacky can you get!

This is a re run of the campaign that VB have been running since 2009. The 2012 campaign was fronted by General Cosgrove  now our Governor General. He sits at a bar and tells us how good VB is in supporting veterans and their families. There is an explicit link between the military, heroes and alcohol.

The evidence is clear that  alcohol and junk food are causing long-term damage to our health. We cannot  ignore it.

The Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) National Partnership on Preventative Health was established because of the alarming increase in preventable chronic diseases as a result of people’s lifestyles. As Nanny Endovelicus pointed out in this blog in October last year and reposted on 22 and 23 January this year ‘These lifestyle issues – in particular smoking, poor nutrition, alcohol misuse and physical inactivity already account for some 40% of potentially preventable hospital admissions. … The growth of lifestyle diseases worrying those watching health expenditure were primarily in diabetes, various cancers, COPD, strokes and other preventable cardiovascular system diseases.’

Alcohol Consumption

Latest statistics are that about 20% of the population continues to drink at levels risky to their long-term health – pretty well unchanged from the ABS results in 2007-08; half of males and one third of females drank riskily for single occasion risk.  The estimated economic and social cost of alcohol is over $30 b. per year.. The good news is that since the 1970s our per capita alcohol consumption has declined although it remains above the OECD average.


By mid-2012 almost two thirds of Australians over 18 years were over overweight or obese according to the ABS, a significant increase from a decade ago. The current combined level for obesity and overweight is 63% for adults.  Of children between the ages of five to 17, about 18% are overweight and 8% are obese. This is very bad news. Australia is now in the top league tables in the obesity stakes, still lower than the US, but we are catching up fast.


We have clearly made progress in reducing tobacco consumption despite the activities of The Australian newspaper and Institute of Public Affairs in defending. Big Tobacco. In 1980, 35% of our population smoked. In 2012 it was down to 20%. It has been a success story and major contributing factors have been the bans on tobacco advertising on TV and radio, and major public education programs.  It is quite a success story in showing what can be done although smoking amongst our indigenous communities and country people is still high.

We have a job ahead of us to address poor health, particularly as a result of alcohol addiction and junk food, including sugary drinks that are driving our obesity epidemic.

But the signs are that the federal government is turning its back on the problem. .

In the last federal budget, Program 1.2 for the Health Department which deals with drugs like alcohol, education against illicit drug use and tobacco was reduced from $224 million in 2013-14 to $161 million in 2014-15. According to the forward estimates it will be down to $131 million in 2017-18.  In money terms this is a reduction of 40%.

The COAG Partnership on Preventative Health with the states has been abolished together with some $400 of promised funding. The programs that will be mainly affected were focused on children, community exercise, nutrition, education and lifestyle risks.

The Australian National Preventative Health Agency was abolished in the 2014 budget.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which provided invaluable data on health risks and preventable disease has been abolished and its functions transferred to a large productivity and performance authority.

The government’s  compromised position  on prevention was also clearly shown a year ago when the Assistant Minister of Health Fiona Nash hired a junk food lobbyist as her Chief of Staff. She tried to wipe out the industry’s voluntary food-star labelling system. With control of ministers’ staff by the Prime Minister’s Office this appointment of a junk food lobbyist could not have been a misunderstanding..

This all adds up to a story of short term success for the alcohol and junk food industries with the complicit national sports organisations, sports people and the broadcasting media.

It is also a good example of budgetary cuts for financial short term advantage which have long term and damaging consequences for our health. The bad health consequences of alcohol and junk food consumption don’t show up immediately. But the consequences down the track are clear and horrible.


In this post I have drawn heavily on earlier posts by Nanny Endovelicus, Preventing Prevention.

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