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March 15, 2010

Obesity, climate change are "great threats''

An open letter signed by more than 300 Australian doctors and scientists has warned of the threat to civilisation posed by man's preoccupation with consumerism, "exertion-free living'' and a growing economy and population.

The letter, co-signed by a former Australian of the Year, said these forces were now "seriously damaging our planet'' and had spawned two great threats - in rising obesity rates and climate change.

A dedicated task force and new public forum was needed to drive discussion and development of “post-growth alternatives to unsustainable, consumption-based growth as the economic norm''.

“As health professionals, we urge Australian politicians (and the public) to recognise the overlap in the underlying cause of two great health threats that our population now faces,'' the experts wrote.
''... the rise of obesity and its life-threatening

“We are now seeing the emergence of health risks caused by excesses in market driven consumerism (including the consumption of energy dense processed foods), energy subsidised exertion-free living, an over-arching pre-occupation with gross domestic product and ... population growth.''

The letter, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, said the industrial age had allowed man to reap “big health gains'' though ongoing improvement was not guaranteed and a “prudent, precautionary strategy to tackle the big issues is essential''.

The letter is co-signed by 2003 Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley who is Professor of Medicine at the University of WA, along with former AMA president Professor Kerryn Phelps (University of Sydney), obesity expert Professor Boyd Swinburn (Deakin University) and Southern Cross University's Adjunct Professor of Health Sciences Garry Egger.

It is endorsed by "over 300 medical and health practitioners including 40 professors of medicine or health sciences''.

The letter warned that mankind's actions were now "seriously damaging our planet and our children's health'' as one in three children born today would go on to become obese or diabetic. On efforts to tackle obesity and climate change, the letter also pointed to the tobacco industry as an example of “the well financed, doubt-fostering opposition of vested interests''.

“In the case of smoking it took 50 years and several million deaths to progress from acknowledgement of the health hazard to application of effective interventions,'' the letter stated.
“With climate change, we lack the luxury of time and the stakes are much higher.''

The experts said while many appeared to favour a “no change'' approach to problems, without action “involuntary change to everyone's lifestyle will become unavoidable''.

“We must seek a sustainable economic system and stable population size that ensures prosperity without endangering both health and environmental quality,'' the letter said.

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