Governments have inadvertently encouraged Australia's obesity epidemic by allowing "McMansion" type developments that pay no heed to healthy living, an expert on diabetes has warned.
Addressing an international conference in Sydney, Monash University professor Paul Zimmet said "these ugly dwellings" had been developed across entire residential blocks with no attention to pavements, bike paths, playing fields or exercise areas.
Professor Zimmet, director of the university's International Diabetes Institute, told more than 2000 delegates to the International Congress on Obesity that the obesity pandemic was as big a threat as global warming.
"This insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity is now engulfing the entire world, led by affluent Western nations, whose physical activity and dietary habits are regrettably being adopted by developing nations," Professor Zimmet said.
He said the problem needed urgent solutions — not just widespread changes to diet and exercise but the rethinking of national policies on urban and social planning, agriculture policy, education and other areas.
"In particular, have our state and local governments inadvertently contributed to this epidemic by permitting property developers to give us urban social problems, most noticeably manifest in the ubiquitous McMansion," he said.
"These ugly dwellings, which are now sprawled across entire residential blocks at the expense of backyards, have also been a key feature of developments without attention to sidewalks, bike paths, public transport corridors, playing fields and friendly exercise areas, attractive and accessible to people who want to maintain their level of fitness and a healthy lifestyle."
World Health Organisation figures show Australia is becoming fat fast, with rates among children now double that of the United States and triple that of the United Kingdom.
Professor Zimmet also warned that the "diabesity" pandemic was set to bankrupt health budgets all over the world.
He cited the cost to Australia of treating obesity-related conditions, with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme contributing $1.7 billion to the treatment of heart disease and $220 million to diabetes remedies last year.
He told academics from Australia, Japan, the US, UK, Canada, Sweden, Indonesia and New Zealand that the six-day obesity conference must mark a turning point in the battle against the bulge.
"Let us aim to produce debate, analysis and a direction out of this meeting to offer to and partner with our respective governments throughout the world in search of sensible and do-able solutions to this crisis," he told the audience.
He warned people not to "live in their silos with their pet beliefs on fast food, banning TV advertising or taxing junk foods".
"We must take a kaleidoscopic view, a panoramic vision, to look at the big picture and acknowledge how our lives and the environment has changed in the last two or three decades," Professor Zimmet said.
Source: The Age
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