Obesity, Consumerism and Art in Australia

Indigenous AustraliansWhen the Australian firm Canstar Blue surveyed parents about baby food and related topics, Simon Downes wrote up the results. Nearly 60 percent of Australian parents admit to having given fast food—such as can be found at McDonald’s and similar establishments—to their babies or toddlers. This in itself is fairly shocking.

But in reply to another question, about commercially available baby food, 78 percent of the subjects replied that they would rather make baby food themselves “so they know exactly what it contains.” Logic would dictate that among that 78 percent, there must necessarily be a great number of parents who are okay with giving their kids fast food, and who have done so.

But wait—doesn’t this imply that such parents would make it their business to know what is in fast food? Armed with that knowledge, how could they then proceed to feed it to their children? Somehow, the fast-food demographic seems unlikely to overlap with the group of enthusiasts who make baby food from scratch. Yet, mathematically, they must include a great many of the same people.

The Limitations of Self-Reporting

What does this mean? Perhaps that white Australians are still proud of their contrarian tendencies, as they have been since the first boatload of convicts landed. Or, like people everywhere, they are capable of sustaining a large load of cognitive dissonance, of believing two opposite things at the same time.

The apparent incongruence also serves as a reminder of how unreliable self-reporting can be. This type of subjective question can accurately measure what people believe about themselves—but the answers have nothing to do with how they actually live their lives. But then, as if to further confound the reader, Downes says:

Canstar Blue surveyed more than 1,300 parents of young children and found that 66% spend more time preparing their baby’s food than their own, while 61% spend more money on food for their little one than themselves.

But again…it’s self-reporting, so what else can we expect?

The Role of Art

Australia includes many different subgroups of non-white people, who are pretty much lumped together as Aboriginal (mainland Australia and Tasmania) and Indigenous, which includes those groups along with the islanders of the Torres Straits. Since they tend to be at the lower end of the economic spectrum, and many live either far from cities or within crowded and chaotic urban circumstances, they probably don’t participate much in things like consumer surveys.

In Melbourne, the Anna Schwartz Gallery recently exhibited an audacious set of photographs titled “The Future is Unforgiving,” which features children wearing terrorist-style suicide vests made from soda cans. Is the artist saying something? Absolutely.

The kids in the pictures are Aboriginal, a word that really shouldn’t be deprecated, because its literal meaning is “from the beginning,” which acknowledges that the Indigenous people were in residence long before any Caucasians made landfall. The Aboriginal ancestors existed in the continent’s harsh climate for around 70,000 years. During that time they managed to pick up a few survival skills. They moved around ceaselessly, burning off calories with every step, staying fit.

Colonization and Obesity

But ever since England colonized the place, Indigenous children have had a rough time of it for various reasons. Professor Marcia Langton, who teaches Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, wrote a piece of prose to help the public understand and appreciate the exhibit.

Prof. Langton points out that generations of native children have been deprived of their cultural heritage. They certainly don’t know how to hunt animals or find edible plants. They eat junk food and drink sugar-sweetened beverages. Even before leaving their teen years, they are regarded as super-high-risk candidates for Type 2 diabetes, and some have even developed the condition by the age of 10. Their life expectancy has been pared down. Journalist Melissa Davey writes:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data released this year found about 3,000 Indigenous Australians die prematurely each year, resulting in almost 100,000 years of life lost…The diseases contributing to the majority of these deaths—cardiovascular disease, infant and congenital conditions, gastrointestinal diseases, cancer and diabetes—are largely preventable through diet and other lifestyle factors such as alcohol and tobacco.

Another academic, Aunty Kerrie Doyle, who is an associate professor of Indigenous Health, noted that choices are limited for people who live in the outback. They may not even have potable water, so bottled and canned beverages seem like the natural thing to turn to. Places in America that are characterized as “food deserts” are oases of opulence compared to the resource-poor areas of vast Australia. The country’s Institute of Family Studies says:

In remote locations, food supply is often limited to a general store that is not always open, with a 26% higher price of a basket of food in remote community stores when compared with a Darwin supermarket…

Warwick Thornton, the photographer who created the art exhibit, is from the unimaginably isolated settlement of Alice Springs, and the kids he used as models are family members.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “_Parents go ga ga for gourmet baby food,” canstarblue.com, 08/07/15
Source: “Warwick Thornton on his images of Indigenous children in ‘fast-food suicide vests’ ,” TheGuardian.com, 07/22/15
Image by Global Panorama

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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