A federal parliamentary inquiry into obesity headed by MP Steve Georganas has recommended the public funding of bariatric surgery to help people who are morbidly obese.

This is one of several recommendations to the Australian government in its recent report, Weighing It Up.

In response to Australia’s obesity crisis, the House of Representative’s Standing Committee on Health and Ageing has called for better urban design of our cities and suburbs to encourage people to be active, and a greater focus on teaching children the importance of healthy eating and exercise.

Amongst other recommendations, it has suggested the introduction of tax incentives such as the use of subsidies to make healthy food cheaper, allowing people to claim the cost of weight-loss programs through Medicare and a tax rebate on gym membership to encourage exercise.

However, not all health experts approve of the report’s recommendation to allow the food industry to continue self-regulating television advertising.

“We have had self-regulation for decades while Australians’ waistlines continue to expand. Our children should be protected from the unfettered bombardment of junk food advertising in their everyday life,” said Jane Martin, senior policy advisor of the Obesity Policy Coalition (which includes VicHealth and Cancer Council Victoria).

Georganas, speaking to Neos Kosmos English Edition (NKEE), continued to defend the self-regulation recommendation, indicating that the industry would be given a chance and if self-regulation did not decrease advertisements directed at children, that the committee would support the Federal Government considering more stringent regulations.

“A junk food (advertisement) ban has too many problems, not the least of which defining junk food in the first place,” he said.

“If you start banning McDonald’s then why not ban biscuits because they have lots of sugars- where do you stop? One particular advertising that we can regulate is nutritional panels and we have asked for food labelling that is more informative.”

Mother of three, Christine Carra believes that it is up to parents to educate their children, not the government. “You can’t isolate them from it. They are going to come across junk food in all aspects of their life so it is important that they are taught how to do deal with it,” she said.

Dietician Antigone Kouris, although believes that the recommendations should have included the government regulation of high energy, nutrient poor food advertisements directed at children, is pleased with the health rebate recommendations of the committee.

“It is a good idea to put obesity on Medicare as a chronic condition- this will enable dieticians to help people to lose weight under a plan subsidised by the government” said Ms Kouris to NKEE.

Whilst the report suggested the use of subsidies for healthy food, it did not recommend a tax on junk food, which had been strongly backed by health experts at the 2020 Summit.

“In an ideal world a tax would be a good idea. I don’t know why they are not backing it- it could be due to industry pressure,” added Ms Kouris.

But Ms Carra said that she did not think a tax would make much of a difference. “I think people would still buy junk food if they could,” she said.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the Government would consider the report along with the recommendations of the Government’s Preventative Health Taskforce to be reported in the coming weeks.