A group of doctors turned heads last week when they floated the idea of using graphic images to combat obesity and diabetes.
Dr Michael Gannon, president of the Australian Medical Association, suggested using shocking images similar to those seen on cigarette packets to discourage the masses from overindulging in junk food.
However, Peter Street Medical Centre GP and senior lecturer Dr Jodi Culbert said she did not think such shock-and-awe tactics were the answer.
“Obesity is such a complex area, but essentially, even though this sounds like an interesting strategy, I think it’s too simplistic, and I don’t think it’s the right direction,” Dr Culbert said.
“I'm not sure the comparison with cigarette smoking is accurate – cigarette smoking is a behaviour, whereas obesity and diabetes are conditions, so it’s not as simple as changing one simple behaviour.
“There’s also the risk that using graphic images will create fear and stigma, and fear doesn’t drive you – it makes you aware of something, but it ultimately makes you stay in your comfort zone, not make positive changes.”
Dr Culbert also questioned if shock tactics on cigarette packets were actually responsible for driving down cigarette smoking rates.
We know lifestyle changes can’t happen overnight, and people really need that ongoing support to make changes.Peta Adams, dietitian
“I'm not sure how much of the success in smoking reduction we can attribute to the graphic image campaigns – there's also been policy change, moves against tobacco companies, restrictions on advertising, and changes in where you can smoke,” Dr Culbert said.
“I think that's the same approach that we need to promote healthy eating and exercise – taking the shift away from the very weight-based measures, which can be quite stigmatising, and looking at how can we create a space encouraging people to make healthy choices.”
Wagga dietitian Peta Adams agreed that a holistic and coordinated approach between communities, health professionals, and governments was needed to effect change.
“Increasing the cost of these foods is probably one step in the right direction, particularly soft drinks, because we know sugar-sweetened beverages are particularly bad for children,” Ms Adams said.
“We also need to increase government funding for access to health professionals – the Medicare rebate has been frozen for six or seven years now, and that’s really impacted access to health professionals in our field.
“Access to health professional will make a big difference for people with these conditions, because we know lifestyle changes can’t happen overnight, and people really need that ongoing support to make changes.”