Obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death in Australia, with 14 million Australians are overweight or obese.
Teaching kids to make healthy choices is part of any modern school curriculum.
And one Canberra High School is putting its money where its mouth is by providing students with a vending machine packed with healthy alternatives.
“We teach girls about nutrition, we really need to be able to have those options for them,” says Jason Corbett-Jones at Canberra Girls’ Grammar.
Instead of sugary calorie-laden snacks, the students at Canberra Girls’ Grammar can choose from nuts, pineapple juice and corn chips.
Students at the school are not complaining.
“It’s good, especially after-hours when you didn’t really pack anything,” Year 8 student Fleur Jennings says.
Year 12 student Jill Greig agrees.
“Sometimes if you don’t pack enough snacks it’s good to know there’s somewhere to get something instead of just starving half the day.
Year 8 student Georgia Lyness sees other benefits too.
“I think it’s good that our school is healthier, and it’s kind of influencing people to eat healthier when they see it at schools.”
Melissa Moss came up with the healthy option machines after years of working with children and seeing first hand the importance of nutrition.
“We need to guide children with their choices with food, and if their habits are bad now, they’ll take those into adulthood,” says Melissa Moss from Vital Vending.
Now there are plans to install healthy food vending machines in ACT hospitals and in supermarkets.
Supermarkets could be forced to provide at least one junk food free check out per store.
It’s part of a wider push by the ACT government to curb soaring levels of obesity.
Australia is now one of the fattest nations on Earth and the ACT government says measures to tackle obesity now are similar to the anti-smoking movement of previous decades.
The retail association overseeing the major supermarkets declined SBS’s invitation for an interview saying it has yet to formulate an official stance on the proposal.
Academics insist parents will welcome junk food free checkouts.
“They want supermarkets to place those sorts of foods out of the line of children,” says Jane Dixon from the Australian National University.
Dr Dixon says retailers need to take responsibility for their role in the obesity crisis.
“Supermarkets supply 70 per cent of grocery items,” Ms Dixon says. “They’re a major player.”
Doctors welcome the move but say increased regulation is only part of the solution.
“We need to be making it easier for people,” says Dr Andrew Miller from the Australian Medical Association ACT.
“They need to be able to identify what’s healthy, the misinformation needs to be got out of the way, and people need to make healthy choices.”
Dr Miller says exercise and healthy eating are the not-so-secret weapons in the fight against fat.
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