Gretchen Miller (Host): Hi there, this is Prevention Works from The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre. I’m Gretchen Miller, and I’m delighted to bring you a profile of a really heavy hitter in the advocacy sphere around obesity, Jane Martin. Jane is the Executive Manager for both the Obesity Policy Coalition and Alcohol and Obesity Programs at Cancer Council Victoria. She has worked for more than 30 years in public health advocacy, engaging in tobacco control, alcohol policy, and obesity prevention, and we’ll be talking more about her current work and the National Obesity Strategy later in the program, but first we’ll start back at the beginning for Jane and what brings her to this space. Jane, you’re unafraid to speak up in an arena where many are hesitant to challenge governments and the food industry. This advocating runs in the blood for you though, can you tell us about your family and how you grew up?
Jane Martin: So I grew up in a family that was quite kind of community and socially minded, I would say. My mum was from the country, they’re always doers, and my dad was a doctor, and my mum was Australian and my dad was English. But when I became involved in tobacco control my father told me about how he, when he was young, had worked at St Thomas’ Hospital with Sir Richard Doll, he was his house man, and that he had written to the British College of Physicians and said that they needed to do something about tobacco and they had developed a book about smoking and health, and in that it was about what clinicians should do, but it also spoke to what the medical profession should do in advocating for controls on advertising, increasing the price of tobacco, more information about the ingredients in tobacco, and this was published in 1962.
Gretchen: And your father worked on this?
Jane: Yes, he wrote to the head of the College and said you need to do something about smoking, so it was well known by then that smoking was related to lung disease but many years later when I met a lobbyist for a tobacco company, Rothmans, when I was in my late teens, early 20s, and he turned to me and said that smoking had no relation to lung cancer, I just thought so many years had passed and industry was still toeing that line.
Gretchen: So you would have been hearing conversations around the dinner table, I imagine.
Jane: My dad was a professor, he worked at the University of Western Australia, so he taught all the medical students from the 1960s through until he retired, and he was very involved in a number of issues, such as preventing sexually transmitted disease, he was very involved in family planning, he used to regularly go to places like Fitzroy River where he was so concerned about the health of the Aboriginal communities, he’d go out to places like Papua New Guinea and lecture and oversee exams for medical students, he was very involved, particularly with marginalised communities like Aboriginal communities in trying to improve their health, and we knew that we were in a very privileged environment but my father was working in the public hospital system and he very much was trying to support women and others to have good health.
Gretchen: He was concerned with folate, for example, he was one of the first to talk about that.
Jane: Yeah, exactly, so he did a lot of research into the role of folate in preventing spina bifida, and so that was very early in those very early years that was then picked up and further expanded by Fiona Stanley, which led to the fortification of foods like bread with folate to prevent something that is a devastating diagnosis.
Gretchen: You started to take on the tobacco industry when you wrote a thesis on it.
Jane: Yes, that’s when I started to understand how hard they would fight against anything that would constrain them commercially, so I looked at the bill to ban tobacco advertising in Western Australia but in the end it wasn’t to be. But it was just an interesting expression of power and influence by those industries, and that legislation didn’t come to pass for many years after that.
Gretchen: And so you then spent 20 years working against the tobacco industry, what did you learn about the power of global corporations and what they would bring to bear in this sphere?
Jane: I learnt that really corporate influence was really related to economic power, so corporate power and economic power are really inextricably linked and you can see that when you read submissions by someone like the Food and Grocery Council. Tthey talk about how much they contributed to the economy, how many people they employ, no-one ever checks or tests it, it might not be true, it might be inflated, but it’s that corporate influence. And there’s these corporations which own a lot of different companies and they operate as a conglomerate, all those companies, through their lobby groups, like the Beverages Council and the Food and Grocery Council. I mean the tobacco industry was the same, they operated through the Tobacco Institute of Australia, they funded scientific research, but they were very well connected and they used those connections. For example, the reason I met the head of Rothmans was because a friend of mine as involved with the Young Liberals and they were engaging with him. He did become a senator, and he had very good relationships with the tobacco industry going into that role, and that’s how the tobacco industry worked. They worked on relationships with people who were potential leaders before they were even in those sort of positions, so that was a really interesting insight into how those networks and relationships are built.
Gretchen: So for you personally, what was it like during the sort of peak of that period for you, I imagine, we didn’t have the social media that we have today, but were you trolled, were you otherwise attacked or watched, what happened for you personally in that time?
Jane: I ended up moving to Melbourne and I started working for a group called Action on Smoking and Health, and it was a really fun and exciting time. We were doing some really ground-breaking work. There was very little sort of understanding about the harms of tobacco at that time, the College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists were saying to their pregnant patients that it was all right to smoke eight cigarettes a day.
Gretchen: I remember ASH, I remember it as an activist group.
Jane: So we got involved in some action and we were concerned about the safety of the information that we had. When I was working on this particular legal case none of the meetings were held in our office, we never spoke about things on the phone, all the meetings were held in a pub. Lucky we worked in Carlton, there were plenty of pubs, so nothing was discussed where it could potentially be accessed. We used to get our offices swept for devices, for listening devices, and I know this sounds, it just sounds like we’re paranoid, but we did find out later through the tobacco documents that the Heart Foundation’s rubbish was stolen and the tobacco industry went through all those materials to find out information. We also found out that the industry were trying to target and get close to the board of the Cancer Council, individual members of the board, and the legal firms that we worked with were certainly concerned that there may be risk, and our offices were broken into, I think two or three times, and yeah, I think we were all quite concerned. For me personally, I didn’t have any direct threats, but our colleagues in Hong Kong and other countries certainly had much more direct threatening behaviour, and things happened, like brakes failing in their cars and it was concerning that you knew of others who were vulnerable to this because of their views and because of their advocacy.
Gretchen: Well thank you so much for your work in that period because we did see significant change come about. After 20 years you then moved on. What brought you from tobacco to your concerns around obesity, what was a critical moment for you as you made that switch?
Jane: By that stage, when I moved into tobacco control I had young children, and I had watched them being basically groomed by the food industry, and at the age of about two and a half my daughter said to me she saw this colour purple, and she said to me, purple is chocolate, and I was like oh my god, Cadbury has a purple brand and somehow she hadn’t watched any television, basically, she knew purple and chocolate, that link had been made at a really young age.
Gretchen: How did you feel about that?
Jane: I felt they were totally exploited and that I was not able to protect them and that was really upsetting to me because my children, from a very early age my children knew about McDonalds and a lot of those brands that advertise very heavily, and this is before social media, so I was much more in control of what they were seeing, and I remember my daughter got a voucher to go to McDonalds through her basketball, and I said give me that voucher, and she just turned to me and said, she was in primary school, and she just said you’re a fun sponge, and I said what’s a fun sponge, and she said you just soak up all the fun. And I was like how dare the industry, these industries make me into the sort of cop and the fun sponge when this should not be happening in the first place. And yes, I was a fun sponge, and I did go to the school and talk about these issues, and try and get rid of the chocolate fundraiser, and I did the ‘don’t go to the canteen mum’, anyway. I did do a lot of that stuff, and in a lot of ways it’s still not, there’s still work to be done, but that really upset me that my children had this sense of that these were fun things, and creating these brand relationships from such an early age.
Gretchen: Was it the success of the tobacco campaigns and the dying of the power of that industry that made you want to move, what made you decide to make the shift?
Jane: I don’t want to minimise the impact of tobacco, there was no vaping back then, and tobacco takes a huge health toll on our community, but I did understand that a lot of those controls that had come into play, that would still take decades to play out, were done, and in particular the smoke-free environments, the big tax changes, the really effective campaigns, and basically shutting down the promotions and marketing that would reach the population, were very important in shifting and reducing uptake of smoking and then supporting people to quit. By this stage I was working in Quit Victoria but we did a lot of national policy work that I was involved with but we also did a lot of work around ensuring that there were referrals, the Quitline service, supports for people who wanted to quit, so I felt like a lot of the kind of really challenging, where you really were coming up against the industry and their allies, those more exciting things had been done. So I think I felt like, although my children were still young I think I felt like I was ready for a new challenge.
Gretchen: And what was it about obesity as an issue, was it the fact that the tobacco and food industries were playing from similar books and you could see that very clearly, what was it about obesity as an issue that attracted you?
Jane: Yeah, from when I was working in Tobacco Control a lot of the tobacco companies were also food and alcohol companies, so fast moving consumer goods, for example, Philip Morris had Kraft, had Jacobs Suchard, which was confectionary, British American Tobacco I think had snack foods like chips and things like that, it was all about distribution and logistics, and some of the ways that they were self-regulated were the same. So these sort of industry codes, the engagement in the same sorts of things like sport, they were big advertisers, they had the similar relationships. I think the big difference was that not everybody smoked but everybody eats. It is much more complex food than tobacco so that’s a big difference but the way the industries behave and how they lobby and how they influence are very similar.
Jane: Gretchen: So they were playing from the same rulebook because they were the same companies, basically, what did the rapid onset of the internet and the development out of that of social media do to those interactions between the corporates and the public?
Jane: What happened in tobacco control is that the tobacco industry wanted to reach young people, so they were the first on the internet, and they also went in to sponsor events but not overtly, they did it covertly, and also getting people to go out at these events and share our particular brands, it was really interesting. What we saw with tobacco was similar for how we saw industries reach young people, and sometimes very young people using apps, using digital techniques, very early adopters around those kinds of new techniques, so they were very much at the forefront of creating relationships with the market. And even very young children, like the Happy Meal website, some of these little apps for children that are really, look like education but they’re made by these fast-food brands, so I think they were always prepared to go further than other industries because they were more motivated to try new things and reach their market more effectively.
Gretchen: What sort of practices did you observe in the early 2000s?
Jane: There was probably starting to get more of a focus around obesity, so in 2008 there was a senate inquiry into obesity, in 2009 the National Preventative Health Strategy looked at three pillars, one was obesity, one was tobacco, one was alcohol. Our sort of prevention side of things was pretty disorganised, there weren’t a lot of people working in this area, and later Nicola Roxon, who was the Health Minister at the time who was overseeing the preventative health taskforce later reflected that we were pretty disorganised around obesity, and that it let them off the hook in a sense, and it really made me understand that this is a continuum, prevention and treatment are both important but we need to have a better understanding of what each other is looking for. That was a bit of a salutary lesson. But I think the other thing was you had the sense that the Obesity Policy Coalition was probably starting to be a bit of an irritation to the industry, and our work was starting to get some traction, just through probably our media advocacy, we were doing public opinion polling, we were starting to engage in these public consultations, and we were helping to raise the issue, so we were focused on the marketing of unhealthy food to children and the failure of these codes of practice that the government is still relying on for industry to make the rules, and stick to them, and that really we needed stronger action, and what happened after the preventative health strategy recommendations were introduced the industry went to government and said we’ve got to do a new code of practice around advertising, so they were nervous that there would be controls on marketing of unhealthy food to children, but that never eventuated and industry were allowed to continue to operate.
Gretchen: And we’re getting more and more obese with the population.
Jane: Well, I think continuing to do more of the same, to rely on education and messaging, which basically is telling people to do better, it didn’t work in tobacco control, telling people just to quit, it didn’t work in road safety telling people speed kills. We did a lot of other things that sat around that to support and encourage and nudge people to healthier behaviours, and we cannot expect to see anything different unless we truly move on from that kind of mindset that we are currently in where not being prepared to create some accountability for these industries through government regulation, which does create a level playing field and will support people to be healthier. I think it’s imperative that government steps in and does more, but even at the moment we’re not sure where things stand, I think there are opportunities and we know that our Health Minister is very strong that if you have healthy Australians you have a healthy economy.
Gretchen: So what concerns you most about the state of play right now?
Jane: The fact that we haven’t progressed very far is the power of the corporations who are invested in, it’s not a failure of willpower, it’s that our society has changed so fundamentally to support highly process foods being cheap, heavily promoted, and very available, and that is why 97 percent of people don’t eat a healthy diet. I mean that is a pretty significant problem, regardless of what people’s weight is, and people are entering unhealthy weight categories at very young ages. Almost half of 18- to 24-year-olds are above a healthy weight. I think that means that they’re going to be more prone to chronic diseases which really impact on people’s ability to be healthy and contribute to the economy, but also support their family and be part of our society.
Gretchen: Jane, I’m curious then, do you describe yourself as an activist, as an advocate, is it a tricky space to occupy? I’m thinking about academics in obesity prevention who are holders of the knowledge but it seems to me have to walk a pretty delicate line, can you talk to those different roles and those lines that are invisible but nonetheless shape the way the holders of the knowledge respond to the state of play?
Jane: Yes, I think that activist is certainly a loaded word and when you see media commentators wanting to be disparaging, that’s what they call you, an activist. I would say that I’m an advocate and that’s my role and that’s what my funders endorse me to be, but for academics it can be a fine line. I know that in the US academics are specifically not allowed to do advocacy but I think that it’s really important that policy-orientated research in particular reaches the people that can make the change, and that’s the politicians.
Gretchen: And so that means being an advocate, right?
Jane: You don’t have to push them in any direction, you can just say this is what our research shows, you can be honest about what the evidence is displaying. And I feel that it’s always been a tension, even when I was in tobacco control between the academics who were prepared to go out and do advocacy, like Simon Chapman, and other academics who didn’t see that was part of their jobs, so there was that tension between that role. When I went to the US on a Churchill Fellowship I did speak to quite a lot of academics about this and those who wanted to do work in this area and speak to politicians, they did it, but they were just very careful about how they presented their work. I think it’s incumbent that we are ensuring that the findings of research are communicated to influence change because that’s really why we’re doing it, we want to make things better, we want to get improvements, and that’s an important part of making that happen. So we are involved with a lot of research projects in that translation of knowledge and evidence into action and change, and I think sometimes not enough attention is paid to that part, more is, but I think it’s really important that we enable and empower universities and other research institutions to influence, to improve health, because they have such an important role to play.
Gretchen: Okay, so that is the role that you play, does that make it then awkward, how do you interact with industry yourself, and as a member of these organisations, given that you often hear that you want to bring them with you?
Jane: Look, for me, my view, I don’t think it’s gone so well. I’ve been on the Health Star Rating group that helped to develop the Health Star Rating, so that was the Food and Grocery Council, the head of the group that represents the supermarkets, but there was also consumer organisations, government, some food groups, Sanitarium did a lot of work on the algorithm. But either you’re in the room or you’re not in the room, that was very challenging, it was very difficult, despite what we came up with, and being told that this would be a mandatory scheme. The political machinations that happened after that, and a change of government, meant that it didn’t become mandatory, and we’re still trying to get improvements to that and changes to ensure the coverage is mandatory but this is a system that was put in place a long time ago, and it’s by category, so I think there can be some confusion with people around what’s healthy and what’s not, because it does appear on processed foods which are not part of a healthy diet. Again, it was a missed opportunity and it’s important because it does encourage companies to reformulate, which they have done, but what companies are doing is, and not all of them, but a lot of them are not putting them on their lower star rated foods, and also it relies on again, the individual being educated around what it means, and the other kind of levers which nudge people in different directions and rely on them being informed, haven’t been taken up, so it has the potential to widen inequalities, whereas other policies would not necessarily do that because they don’t rely on the individual being informed.
Gretchen: So it’s pretty difficult to be both carrot and stick at the same time, but it is a changing world, and for a long time academics in most arenas had to be seen as objective, however, with the rise of social media I think that’s actually changed a lot, and I wonder if you have words of advice for young academics about how to be more active as advocates?
Jane: I think being mentored and supported to engage in this kind of work is really important, and it’s not something that you’re normally taught about in your undergraduate. If you are working with a group that does see that as part of your job, I think that’s really helpful, because then you’ve got leadership and potential mentors in your circle that will support and empower you to do that. We have a relationship, the Obesity Policy Coalition, with Deakin University, for example, and that’s been really good in supporting around strategies to what else needs to be done. You’ve got to media release your work, you’ve got to get out there and talk to Sunrise and ABC and you’ve got to be media trained, but you’ve also got to write follow-up letters to politicians and offer meetings and you need to develop briefing papers and leave behind messaging and there’s a whole lot of other stuff that it’s a ripple effect. Your research is the stone in the pond and everything else comes out from that, and you’ve got to create those ripples as well, and be a part of that. A good example of the evolution of something like that is I’m President of the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society but a number of years ago now we repeated something that we’d done quite successfully in tobacco control, that was called the Dirty Ashtray Award, this was called the Couch Potato Award where we benchmarked the states and territories around their progress in obesity prevention. Then at the ANZOS annual scientific meeting we released the data on how the states and territories had done, and that was a really good way to help them leapfrog each other and have an understanding of what they’re doing. It was pretty loose, I must say, and now that kind of idea has become quite sophisticated and the same idea has been used to develop something called Inform Us, which benchmarks jurisdictions to best practice food policy actions, but it’s a really important way of helping jurisdictions understand where they’re doing well and where they can do better, and it’s an independent, very clear outline of what needs to happen. I think you have to keep it really simple for government and politicians, you don’t want something really complicated, and that’s part of the kind of journey that academics need to go on, you don’t want any caveats or they don’t want to hear about confidence interval, you just need to say this is what you need to do and keep it very simple and clear, because you’re not talking to an academic, you are talking to a politician and they have to analyse what you’re putting forward against a whole lot of other priorities.
Gretchen: So to obesity itself now, okay, it’s been four years since it was actually first announced but the National Obesity Strategy has only just kicked off, it’s now up and running, can you describe the strategy and your role in it, and the challenges that it faces?
Jane: Australia had had a gap because the Liberal Government had not really acted to implement the Preventative Health Strategy, so there was a need for a national strategy that focused on obesity, and was something that is just such a serious problem, and we know that the burden of disease from obesity and poor diets is one of the highest, needed some focused attention. This problem was sort of identified by Anna Peeters, who is at the Institute for Health Transformation, who I think you’ve already interviewed.
Gretchen: Yes, we’ve got an interview with Anna on Prevention Works.
Jane: I’m not sure if she spoke about that but Anna and I talked about how we wanted to really develop a bit of an action plan for government that again was very clear, focused, simple, around the most urgent actions to address obesity, and one of the key things as part of that, aside from equity considerations and funding and monitoring and those sorts of foundational elements, was that they were incorporated within a National Obesity Strategy. So we developed a platform called Tipping the Scales, which had a number of actions, policy actions, including a health levy on sugary drinks, protecting children from the marketing of unhealthy food, hard hitting, effective, ongoing campaigns around healthy diets and obesity prevention, implementing a physical activity strategy, a whole range of issues that the steering group and a broader group had identified as key elements that were urgently required as part of a National Obesity Strategy. I think it was 2017 that we did that, and then following that, six months later, Four Corners did a piece that really focused on the politics of sugar, but one of the calls to action out of that Four Corners story, which was also called Tipping the Scales, was that the government implement a National Obesity Strategy. And then the Council of Australian Governments, the Health Ministers came together, and WA and Queensland put forward that a strategy should be developed, I think that was 2018, and through COVID there were a few ups and downs but it was eventually implemented, it was meant to just be a prevention strategy, towards the end it got massaged into including treatment as well, and it was released on World Obesity Day in March this year.
Gretchen: What is the strategy, what are the challenges, how do you make sure that it’s not toothless, how does it get into action rather than just research?
Jane: And that’s a really good question and I think it’s something that is weighing on my mind that the government and Mark Butler, who is the new Health Minister has said that they support the National Obesity Strategy, we’re seeing a lot of work in the jurisdictions around developing their own strategies. Queensland’s has just opened right now, for example, so the states have got their skates on, but I think at a federal level it’s difficult to know what’s happening, and clearly from my perspective the big policy levers are held by the Federal Government, and where we haven’t seen action and strong action up until now is really around changing things in the environment that would support people to be healthier. Also that’s round the marketing of unhealthy food, that’s around the pricing of unhealthy food, that’s around the availability of unhealth food availability. A lot can be done by the states and territories but a lot of the issues that the levers are held by the Federal Government and I think we’ve seen conservative governments globally implement taxes on sugary drinks, it’s been implemented in 53 countries. Colombia has just joined up and they are not just taxing sugary drinks but they’ve also put a levy on processed foods, which we know are the foods that are harmful, most harmful to our health.
Gretchen: So we’re actually well behind, and you were recently in Magda’s Big National Health Check on the ABC, which was a fantastic watch, but it was clear from what Magda was asking that there’s still very little action planned federally, how are you feeling about that?
Jane: Clearly COVID has been really distracting, even now, for the new government and they’ve got a really large agenda, but I feel concerned that we’re not having more conversations about the sort of policies that we have been recommended. It does take me back to the policies in that College of Physicians’ report in the 60s. It took 30 years for them to be implemented. We know what policy changes need to happen, it is about implementation, and they have been taken up by countries which have a huge burden of disease from risk factors such as poor diet and unhealthy weight. We’re one of those countries. If we don’t act we won’t have a health workforce, our hospital system will be burdened unnecessarily, it already is burdened, and this problem will continue to have huge impacts on our society, on our community, and on our ability to have a healthy, productive workforce, economy, lifestyle. I am just worried that if we just rely on these soft touches that we are not going to meet these targets of even slowing down the increase, let alone turning this around.
Gretchen: So there are a couple of key things to be done, what is the Obesity Policy Coalition doing to do next? Talk about the ‘Kids are sweet enough’ campaign.
Jane: At the moment we have this sort of rollout of some work that was done in 2011, it was Neal Blewett that did a review of food labelling, and one of the recommendations from that report is that added sugar is put on the label of packaged foods. At the moment the food regulator is working out what is an added sugar and how do you define that, and that process is going to go out for public consultation next year. The Commonwealth Government is also looking at baby and toddler foods in a separate work package. There are a few different things that they’re looking at as part of their work package but it’s about the sweet profile of those foods, the kind of composition of those foods, how those foods are marketed, that kind of thing. We have done some work around baby and toddler foods, we’ve looked at their composition, we’ve looked at how they’re marketed, and the claims that appear on those foods, the depictions of fruit, that kind of thing, and we’re concerned that there’s high levels of processed fruit sugars in those foods that need to be included in the definition of an added sugar, and that even savoury foods for toddlers can contain pastes and concentrates and things like that which provide some sort of sweet profile, which is concerning, because children, they are eating enough fruit, a lot of them, but they’re not eating enough vegetables, and they need to have those savoury tastes otherwise they develop a preference for the sweeter foods. It’s important that they’re not consuming added sugars and our food supply is very high in added sugars from processed food, so we are running a campaign called ‘Kids are sweet enough’ to raise awareness and to try and get some action around the composition of these foods and how they are promoted to the public, who it’s very, very difficult for them to know how much sugar is in them without having that on the label.
Gretchen: And so you’re also calling for, along with many other obesity researchers and campaigners, for junk food advertising banned during kids’ time on TV and of course the tax on sugary drinks which is a fairly obvious measure that hasn’t been implemented.
Jane: We have another campaign that we’ve been running, we launched it last year on World Obesity Day, which is called ‘Brands off our kids’. We’re calling for comprehensive action around stopping marketing of unhealthy food to children on TV, we’re looking for time-based controls. At the moment the way these industry codes work, the highest rating children’s programs do not necessarily meet the requirements under their code, so programs that are not seen as having high proportions of children watching. Above 25 percent, don’t fall within their remit, so a program like Lego Masters, which is very popular with kids but also popular with families, can have junk food advertising in it. We want time-based controls up to 9:30 at night to protect children and to remove all advertising of unhealthy food on digital platforms, and that’s exactly what’s been passed in legislation in the UK, for example, to come in. I think they’ve just delayed it by a year, but the legislation has passed. We are calling for a levy on sugary drinks, we think that manufacturers should be incentivised to reformulate sugary drinks, and that’s exactly what these price levies do. In the UK that’s what’s happened, and companies have reformulated, there’s been no decline in profits but the amount of sugar consumed by people has gone down. That’s a win, and it’s also helped; even before the levy was introduced people reduced the amount of sugary drinks they were drinking just because that information had an effect, and that’s the sort of impact those reports had with something like the health levy in the UK, talking about why sugary drinks are a problem and why action needs to be taken, and the impact on the population, which is positive. People, without any price signals or removal of advertising, reduced the amount of those drinks that they consume because they’re understanding that there are health impacts that they don’t want to get. That kind of understanding arose over time, and that’s why these policy levers that we’re talking about today are so important, is because they continue to have an impact because they don’t erode over time, they continue to send a signal to the population around price, or not having the promotion has an ongoing effect. It’s more like a screw, you’re getting it down, it’s not eroding over time and popping back up like an education-type campaign where it’s a once-off. If you have it in market all the time, that’s different, you sort of almost need to have an always-on campaign to have an ongoing impact on a population.
Gretchen: Yes, okay, so that kind of brings us back to the beginning of our conversation when we were talking about legislation is actually necessary. It’s a very difficult space to work in. As we finish up our conversation what makes you optimistic, dare I ask?
Jane: I’ve been trying to think about what was the tipping point in tobacco control and there wasn’t one point, but I think at some stage political capital needs to be used to come up against these industries, and I feel it will be the health impacts that will tip this. We know that unhealthy weight is the leading preventable cost on our health and hospital system, that’s a new analysis that’s been done by AIHW and we cannot keep going like this.
Gretchen: We can’t ignore that.
Jane: I don’t think so, I think the impact on our economy, on our society, on our communities, and look at what’s happening in our Indigenous communities, it is unsustainable to continue like this. And that’s how I feel, it can’t go on, and we have to be ready with the solutions when government is ready to act, and there will be a lot of different things that contribute to that but I think it’s important to have the solutions and to consider how they would work, and be ready for that time when that political window opens. But I’m hopeful that we will get there, and I think there’s more and more organisations, more and more researchers, more and more people calling for these kinds of things, there’s a lot more momentum around the solutions, which I think is really important. But what I think is so fabulous about the work that Magda’s done is she’s saying we can all be advocates for action, and we can ask politicians for change, and I think that’s where the real power and influence come from.
Gretchen: So like Magda, Jane, you encourage everybody to write to your MP and call for action in this space. Jane Martin, it’s been such a pleasure to speak with you today. I know you’re incredibly busy so I’ve been very grateful to hear about your work, and I know our audience is going to love it, so thank you so much.
Jane: Thanks Gretchen, it’s been great fun, thank you.
Gretchen: Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition. This is Prevention Works from The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre. There is more information, as always, on our website. I’m Gretchen Miller, see you next time.
[End of recording – 41:18]
Jane is the Executive Manager for both the Obesity Policy Coalition and Alcohol and Obesity Programs at Cancer Council Victoria. She has worked for more than 30 years in public health advocacy, engaging in tobacco control, alcohol policy, and obesity prevention. This episode focuses on Jane’s current work and the National Obesity Strategy, as well as what brings her to the advocacy space – an arena where many are hesitant to challenge governments and the food industry.
Jane recently teamed up with Dr Sandro Demaio to help Madga Szubanski embark on an immersive and personal journey to discover what health looks like in Australia today for ‘Magda’s Big National Health Check’ on ABC-TV. Jane helped Magda discover the major health challenges facing our society and how we can work together to improve our chances of a healthy life. This three part series aired on ABC TV in November 2022. Find out more about Magda’s Big National Health Check on the ABC website .