Argument in Australia over “non-effective” health impact of lifestyle campaigns

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd August 2012

The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health has released research finding that food industry regulation and the aggressive prescription of drugs would save more lives than lifestyle advice.

Dr Linda Cobiac, a research fellow at the University, led the joint-university study into the effectiveness of cardiovascular disease prevention methods.

The research comes at an interesting time for organisations such as the Heart Foundation of Australia. The Heart Foundation has been at the forefront of social campaigns centred on its lifestyle Heart Tick program, which encourages ‘healthier option’ foods.

Dr Cobiac’s research, published online by the Public Library of Science, was undertaken in conjunction with researchers from Deakin University in Melbourne, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US. The research found $4.2 billion could be saved in healthcare expenditure annually if salt limits were imposed on foods, cholesterol-lowering drugs were made more affordable and preventive drugs were given to those with a 5 per cent or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease within five years.

Dr Lyn Roberts, CEO of the Heart Foundation, said while the research showed that improving Australia’s fledgling food reformulation agenda was essential, the Heart Foundation would continue to support lifestyle and education programs and social marketing.

Dr Roberts said, “excessive salt consumption is a major killer, with estimates suggesting it may be responsible for as many as 6,000 premature Australian deaths a year, mostly from heart attacks and strokes,” but “the National Preventative Health Taskforce found that the best evidence shows that long term, well funded social marketing campaigns underpinned by quality research are needed to change behaviour,” she added.

Dr Roberts still believes the Heart Foundation’s ‘tick of approval’ has been a successful social marketing campaign.

“We know Australians appreciate these efforts because research shows us it’s Australia’s most trusted food certification. One in five grocery buyers in Australia always have an item in their trolley with the Tick and more than half of them say they’d prefer a product with the Tick rather than a similar product without the Tick,” Dr Roberts said.

Australian Food News comments:

Consumer trust in the healthiness of a food that has been certified by a health-related organisation, such as the Heart Foundation, may not mean that these certified products have the positive health impacts that are believed by consumers to be attributable to such products.

Furthermore, Australian Food News notes that government and health organisations must generally consider their budgeting priorities by measuring the comparative effectiveness of different activities and “value for money.”