Intergovernmental policy opportunities for childhood obesity prevention in Australia: Perspectives from senior officials

Emma K. Esdaile, Chris Rissel, Louise A. Baur, Li Ming Wen, James Gillespie

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Abstract

Background Early childhood (from conception to five years) is a key life stage for interventions to prevent obesity. In the Australian Federation, policy responsibility for obesity prevention sits across all levels of government and several intergovernmental institutions, rendering a complicated policy space. There is a gap in our understanding of the role of intergovernmentalism in developing obesity prevention policy in Australia. Given the complexity of intergovernmental structures and initiatives influencing childhood obesity prevention policy, it is important to understand the perspectives of senior health officials within the bureaucracy of government who through their roles may be able to influence processes or new strategies. Methods Document analysis relating to obesity prevention in the intergovernmental context provided material support to the study. This analysis informed the interview guides for nine interviews with ten senior health department officials (one interview per jurisdiction). Findings Several opportunities exist to support nutrition and obesity prevention in early childhood including marketing regulation (discretionary choices, breastmilk substitutes, commercial complementary foods and ‘toddler milks’) and supporting the early childhood education and care sector. This study found a widening structural gap to support national obesity policy in Australia. New public management strategies limit the ability of intergovernmental institutions to support coordination within and between governments to address complex issues such as obesity. Subnational informants perceived a gap in national leadership for obesity prevention, while a Commonwealth informant noted the commitment of the national government to partner with industry under a self-regulation model. In this gap, subnational leaders have pursued nationally consistent action to address obesity, including the development of a national obesity strategy as a bipartisan endeavour across jurisdictions. Public officials calculate the strategic possibilities of pursuing opportunities within state agendas but note the limited chances of structural change in the absence of national leadership and funding.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0267701
Number of pages31
JournalPLoS One
Volume17
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • childhood obesity prevention
  • obesity prevention
  • Nutrition support
  • marketing regulation
  • intergovernmentalism

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