You have to hand it to the Obesity Policy Coalition. Funded indirectly by government, through their funding sugar-daddies (geddit?) the Cancer Council of Victoria, Diabetes Victoria and VicHealth – Victoria being the biggest nanny State of Australia – their one-person, a mailing list and a letterhead operation gets a heck of a lot of media traction.
The Obesity Policy Coalition’s Jane Martin’s latest publicity wheeze is castigating kid’s cereal manufacturers for having the temerity to box their products in colourful packaging featuring cartoon characters. She has declared war on Tony the Tiger, Sam the Toucan, Coco the Monkey, Scooby Doo and any cartoon character who’s ever appeared on a cereal packet, claiming these loveable critters drive kiddies’ pester power over poor Mum as she wheels the overladen trolley down the supermarket aisle.
That Mum may be too spineless to keep her kids in line of course hasn’t occurred to her.
In doing the rounds of the media, Ms Martin is calling for tighter packaging standards for “junk” food, effectively demanding plain packaging for Coco Pops (cocolossal as any 60s child will know from the black-and-white TV ads of the time) and Fruit Loops just like plain packaging for cigarettes. She seems to think that packaging and marketing of lawful food products is a conspiracy of Big Junk Food against vulnerable little kiddies, when it’s just the market at work.
It’s worth pointing out to the good Lady Jane, therefore, that this month’s latest edition of the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, run by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, covered the period 2013-16. It was the first survey period fully covering the operation of Australia’s repressive plain packaging regime for tobacco products. Yet, while smoking rates in the then non-plain packaged United Kingdom tumbled over the same period, Australia’s smoking rate declined less than half a percentage point, well within any margin of error.
On those AIHW-endorsed numbers, plain packaging is a big fail. It is achieving nothing. It nudges not. If applied to Coco Pops, it would fail just as dismally, probably even more so. If people want to buy yummy stuff, they will, pure and simple.
Instead of media-bait press releases Ms Martin and her fellow wowsers should face facts. If too many kids are turning into lard-arses, it’s because they don’t run around enough while stuffing whatever they and their parents choose into their young mouths. It’s not Kelloggs, Nabisco or whichever food manufacturers force-feeding the kiddies, Ms Martin, it’s their Mums and Dads who need to act like adults and take responsibility for their kids and themselves. In this snowflake age, it’s all too easy to blame others for our own failings, and if parents raise lard-arses they need to look to look in the mirror, not at a cereal box.
Just as for nicotine and alcohol, the correct message for convenience food of any sort is to enjoy in moderation, but use the brains God gave you rather than blame everyone else for your own inadequacies and parental failures. Balance your kids’ diets and, above all, get them off their flabby snowflake arses and get them active.
Plain packaging achieves nothing, playing the holier-than-thou puritan achieves nothing. The likes of the Obesity Policy Coalition should stop wasting taxpayers’ money with their self-righteous indignation and anti-capitalist conspiracy theories.
Indeed, they should not get any taxpayers’ money at all.
Terry Barnes is a policy consultant and former Howard government adviser.