Australia is losing the war against alcohol and obesity because it lacks a comprehensive approach to prevention, according to leading public health experts.

A report in the Medical Journal of Australia, from Victoria University’s Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC), the University of Melbourne and the Obesity Policy Coalition says investment in life-saving health promotion programs in Australia lags well behind many other western countries.

Seven million Australians live with a chronic illness yet less than 2 per cent of health expenditure is channelled into prevention programs to tackle obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Penny Tolhurst, manager of the chronic disease program at the Australian Health Policy Collaboration said this figure sits in stark contrast to the 40 per cent of health expenditure spent on hospitals.

“We need to invest more on keeping people out of hospital and there are cost-effective interventions that could be implemented right now which would benefit the community, the health system, and health budgets,” she said.

Rob Moodie, a professor of public health at the University of Melbourne, said the average Australian is now six kilograms heavier than 25 years ago.

“Most of us are overweight or obese but if we had introduced effective health policy 15 years ago, we’d be lighter, happier and healthier,” Professor Moodie said.

“We could have avoided an enormous amount of heartache and pain but we’ve failed.”

Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said government policies to improve diets and decrease obesity should be a priority.

These include reducing promotion of unhealthy food to children, mandatory health star ratings on food labels and a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks.

The report also calls for urgent increased Federal Government investment in prevention – including regulation of unhealthy products and more targeted health promotion interventions.

About the Australian Health Policy Collaboration

The AHPC at Victoria University is a health policy and research think tank that promotes and supports a national policy agenda for the prevention and management of chronic diseases. It aims to inform an efficient whole-of-population approach to policies, funding, structures and services through evidence-based research.