Professor slams Australian government on Preventative Health social marketing campaign

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 4th December 2012

Professor Paul Zimmet, Director Emeritus of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute has slammed the Federal government for its approach to obesity issues. Professor Zimmet said “there is no political will for major upstream primary prevention of obesity at present in Australia”.

Professor Zimmet was speaking at the Obesity Australia “Obesity Summit” in Canberra yesterday.

Professor Zimmet was a member of the Rudd/Roxon appointed Preventative Health Task Force on Tobacco, Alcohol and Obesity, which led to creation of the government’s major funded obesity initiative in 2010 known as the National Preventive Health Agency.

Professor Zimmet said that the $40 million “Swap it – Don’t Stop It” social marketing campaign, featuring Eric the Balloon man, is “likely to be a taxpayers’ waste of money”.

The Federal government’s Preventative Health Taskforce, which was established in 2008 and headed by Professor Rob Moodie of the University of Melbourne, released a National Preventative Health Strategy: “Australia: The Healthiest Country by 2012”, on September 1,2009.

Commenting on Professor Zimmet’s criticisms of the government’s social marketing campaign, FoodLegal specialist Joe Lederman said he was surprised that Professor Zimmet had not known of the government’s intent to use social marketing as its main policy vehicle for preventative health.

Mr Lederman said in an article he wrote in March 2010 entitled “How necessary is an Australian National Preventative Agency for anti-obesity policy?”, he had mentioned the budget allocated for the Agency, from before its outset, had indicated that most of its money would be spent on social marketing.

In his March 2010 article, Mr Lederman had expressed the view that the initiative would be little more than an advertising push, stating that the government budget had allocated $102 million of the $133.2 million of total funding to be spent on “social marketing campaigns for obesity and smoking”.

It appears from Professor Zimmet’s comments that the social media allocation for this campaign might have been cost $40 million.

Mr Lederman said ” Anyone looking at the  budget for the National Preventative Agency’s ‘anti-obesity’ activities would have always understood it was aiding the spin-doctors rather than real doctors.”

Mr Lederman’s 2010 article had questioned the efficacy of expenditure on social marketing (beyond existing campaigns, such as the ‘Quit’ program), and questioned whether it would lead to beneficial health effects

A full version of Mr Lederman’s March 2010 critique can be accessed here.

The criticised Swap It, Don't Stop It campaign.