Open up, it’s the fat police
A new preventative health agency is set to be established in the coming months that will tell people what they can eat, drink and certainly not smoke.
It will also attempt to monitor how much of this bad behaviour we are indulging in by working out how fat we’re getting. It’s also likely going to aim to get us fit and exercising as “communities”.
So be prepared to be awoken by a megaphone wielding Nicola Roxon who will no doubt lecture you on why you shouldn’t be hung-over as she accompanies you to the local common for some invigorating star jumps.
The fat patrol are no longer vigilantes, they’ve been given their own agency.
Last week in a Senate estimates the acting head of the Federal Health Department’s population health division Peter Morris (they chose the guy with the name that sounds like a cigarette company?) said of the preventative agency and its associated measures:
“It will be the biggest investment in health promotion in Australia’s history; it is a very significant investment.”
The National Preventative Health Agency – agreed to at the state and federal government meeting last year – will be funded by both levels of government to the tune of hundreds of millions over the coming years. A fair slab of the $872 set aside for preventative health under the COAG agreement is set to go into the new agency.
Hundreds of millions are going to be devoted to these ads as well as what a Government spokeswoman ominously characterised to the Punch last night as “surveillance and research of a national nature”.
Given the resources being poured into it it’s a fair to ask: why do we need this agency?
Preventative health is the favourite buzzword of Nicola Roxon’s health agenda.
The argument goes something like this: because more and more Australians are dying of preventable disease caused by “lifestyle choices” (i.e. smoking, drinking and eating too much crap) the best way to stop it is before it happens.
So instead of clogging up our hospitals with people dying of lung cancer and having legs lopped off with type 2 diabetes we simply tell them that its probably not a good idea to smoke a pack a day, eat a double whopper meal and wash it down with fourteen schooners.
The theory follows that this is best done through education campaigns and price control. Reductions in smoking rates are seen as the best example of preventative health measures working in practice.
This is a great theory, but there are a lot of problems with it that aren’t regularly addressed mainly because nobody wants to be seen as arguing against the noble notion of having people live longer.
Firstly, while there is no safe level of smoking it is different from eating too many chico rolls in that you can safely eat chico rolls over a life time without dying because of them (however I have seen an overexcited friend at the football almost meet this fate).
Furthermore what if I want to eat crap? I probably don’t need a new department to tell me that what I eat and drink on a regular basis is not very good for me but sometimes we do things that aren’t good for us.
It’s human nature. We make choices as individuals sometimes because they give us pleasure in the short term. Often we simply don’t care whether something may give us cancer when we’re sixty because we’re too bloody tired and want to have a fun weekend.
Certain messages resonate to change behaviour whilst others - a lot of others - just become Government funded white noise.
Australia’s new found obsession with obesity has also reached levels of paranoia usually saved for airborne killer diseases (thank you swine flu for distracting us), with some beginning to question the whole idea that our children are in fact a wobbling mass headed to a early grave at 13.
The other strange thing about preventative health measures is that while they grow by the day the revenue that the Government gains from the evil products also appears to increase.
The 70% tax hike on alcopops for instance was done in the interests of cutting down binge drinking among teenage girls. While it’s true that sales of alcopops have declined it still stands to make around $1.6 billion from the tax.
Putting up taxes on beers and ciggies still makes any Government a heap of money because heaps of people still smoke ciggies and drink beer.
Whenever discussions of the effectiveness of preventative health campaigns begin I think of Norm.
Remember Norm from the Life Be in it campaign? Norm the hen pecked husband who just wanted to have a beer and a pie but was constantly being reminded about what to eat and that he should get out more and “enjoy life”.
Given that Life Be in it was launched over 25 years ago now I wonder what’s happened to Norm and what he’s learnt.
He may well be dead. Or he may be sitting on the couch waiting for the new “Measure Up” ads to end so he can watch the football.
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