I am on a lecture tour of Australia at the moment, currently in Adelaide. It’s pouring down but who cares? Because according to the Australian government, Australia’s health care system is one of the best in the world, providing safe and affordable healthcare for all Australians (1). According to the Australian government.
Not many Aussies, however, trust the Australian government. Sandgropers, Cabbage Patchers, Crow Eaters and Gum Suckers (not to mention the Ockers)know their politicians generally whore for the big lobby groups such as the food industry, and are bound by their control files to follow Washington and Tel Aviv policy whenever commanded. This explains why, for example, they voted last week to reaffirm their relationship with NATO, an obsolescent cold war institution whose main function is to generate cash flow to the defense industry. Constituents are low on the food chain; which is why the Oz food chain is so degraded.
So when Australians hear politicians braying that theirlife expectancy continues to be among the highest in the world, they take it with several pinches of salt. And given that 61% of adults and 25% of children are currently clinically overweight or obese, and 50% of Australians have a chronic disease, even the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is forced to concede that something is wrong (2). They admit that over 1 in 5 Australian adults are now affected by heart disease (3), but I think they are still trying to downsize some of the real figures. They admit for example that around 6% of Aussies are diabetic but their estimate of undiagnosed diabetes looks very low; and when you add in metabolic syndrome, the pre-clinical precursor to frank diabetes, the real percentage of at-risk subjects must be far higher.
Various government departments make the usual noisesabout consumers having to take responsibility. Their propaganda includes such gems as, ‘Our unhealthy habits and lifestyle choices contribute to over 30% of the health burden in Australia today’ (2). Note the pseudo-inclusive ‘our’ …. And their feeble attempt to cover up the toxic reality, which is that the modern Australian diet may be responsible for up to 90% of the burden of chronic ill health (4).
Whatever happened to traditional Australian rude good health? It got run over by the food multinationals’ junk food juggernaut, which has already steamrollered over USA and UK health to the point where life expectancy is falling (5, 6); and will soon replicate this feat down under.
According to the well-respected (and Australian) George Institute for Global Health, sixty percent of Australian packaged foods are highly or ultra-processed junk foods and only one third are ‘healthy’ (7). The scientists stated,‘Australia’s packaged food environment is full of highly processed foods laden in sugar, fat and salt. Our supermarket shelves are full of products that are making us fat and sick.’
More specifically, they found that 53% of Australian packaged foods consisted of energy dense and nutrient-poor foods such as sweetened soft drinks, biscuits, chocolates, meat pies, butter and salty snacks. 61% of these foods were ultra-processed, a category particularly linked to disease and premature death in humans and other lab animals (8-11). Almost all convenience foods – including ready-to-eat meals, pre-prepared sauces or dressings, canned or processed meats, frozen meals and desserts – fell into the ultra-processed category.
Professor Bruce Neal, from the George Institute, told it like it is. ‘It is little wonder we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Half of all packaged foods are junk foods that we should only be eating occasionally. Industry tells us it’s all about personal choice and free will. But, Australians haven’t chosen to be obese. They’re obese because selling cheap, unhealthy food everywhere, all the time, is how industry profits are maximised.’
Other scientists came to similar conclusions, finding that most Australian processed foods (particularly children’s foods) were making nutrition and/or health claims that could not be justified, usually due to their high sugar content (12).
A significant sub-group of Australians know better, eat better and support local paddock to plate initiatives. But they are a minority, and I doubt there are enough of themto counter the coming downturn in Antipodean life expectancy which will likely run in parallel with the next economic crash.
Half a century ago a pioneering Australian professor, who I had the privilege of corresponding with in the ‘80’s but will not name here, performed a stunning experiment that could not be carried out today due to our progressively refined sensibilities. Deeply concerned by the skyrocketing rates of diabetes and other degenerative diseases among the aboriginals who lived in the townships and ate a Western diet, she took a group of them out to the bush where they reverted to bush tucker; consisting of foraged plants, game, Witchetty grubs and other delicacies not available at the time from Woolworths.
In a remarkably short time their blood sugar normalized, their high blood pressure reverted to normal, they regained their former slim and athletic body shapes, and the diseases caused by Westernisation melted away (13).Even today, and while the poor health status of Indigenous people occurs in all areas where they dwell, living in remote and less Westernised areas has measurable health benefits (14).
Perhaps it is time to repeat the experiment, but on a much larger scale and with subjects of all races. Perhaps we should send the more obese, sickly and sociopathicpoliticians out into the outback first. Perhaps we shouldnot let them return until they are either healthy, or deceased. It would be a win for Australia, either way.