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Government action on diabetes prevention: time to try something new

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Diabetes mellitus is the fastest-growing non-communicable disease (NCD) in Australia. Around one in 25 adults has type 2 diabetes, and half do not manage their condition effectively.1 By 2023, diabetes will account for around 9% of Australia’s burden of disease, compared with 5% in 2003.2 Health spending on diabetes has been predicted to rise by 400% between the 2002–03 and 2032–33 financial years, reaching $7 billion.2 The rising burden of diabetes is largely due to rising rates of overweight and obesity, to which poor diet is a key contributor.

In 2013, Australia and other members of the World Health Assembly committed to a range of global goals for reducing the burden of NCDs, including a halt in the rise of diabetes. Achieving these ambitious goals will require a paradigm shift from personal responsibility to shared responsibility, as well as greater accountability from governments and industry.3 Although individuals can take steps to improve their own diets, achieving healthier diets at the population level requires cost-effective public policy measures.

Until now, Australian government action to prevent diabetes has focused largely on encouraging individuals, through education and information, to change their lifestyles. In this article, we propose a new approach. We summarise four…