Eating Disorders

26 Jul 2007 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse a question about eating disorders.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: In this place last year, in reply to a question regarding the development of a school education program to focus on eating disorders, the minister said that she failed to see how healthy eating programs could possibly lead to exacerbating anorexia, yet earlier this month a study was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry which showed that, in South Australia over the 10 years to 2005, there was more than a twofold increase in purging, fasting and other unhealthy weight control behaviours. The New South Wales government recently announced $4.1 million to be spent over the next four years to help combat eating disorders, including community based early intervention. Will the minister now acknowledge that encouragement to eat less may contribute to vulnerable individuals developing eating disorders, and what community-based early intervention programs does this government fund?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): I thank the honourable member for her important questions. It is simply outrageous to suggest that a healthy, balanced, well designed public campaign around healthy eating could contribute to anorexia or eating disorders.

Part of the problem that we have with eating disorders is the way in which beauty is portrayed in our society and the way that it is reinforced in the media, particularly in relation to our obsession with fashion. Television programs, and even our pop cult music stars, often reinforce the concept that being abnormally thin is in some way beautiful and is something to aspire to.

I have made previous comments (and I continue to do so), particularly in relation to my former role as a health care professional, about the importance of a healthy, well balanced diet and what that means in terms of maintaining health and wellbeing. It is something that we should be focusing on and promoting. I understand that we have programs in place. I have also been advised that they are reinforced as part of our school programs. I do not have the details with me, but I am happy to bring them back to the chamber. This issue also overlaps, obviously, with the portfolio of the Minister for Health. I am happy to bring back those details for the member.

I can only reinforce the importance of being able to promote to our young people, in particular, how important a healthy, well-balanced diet is and what constitutes a healthy diet, in terms of a balance between carbohydrates, proteins and high fibre grain mixes, or cereals. It is absolutely absurd to suggest that my comments on a healthy, well-balanced diet are about promoting eating less, to an extent, and that they promote anorexia.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Sir, I have a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of the report in the ANZ Journal of Psychiatry by Professor Phillipa Hay and Dr Warren Ward? If she has not read it, will she undertake to do so?

The PRESIDENT: I do not remember the minister mentioning a report.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Yes, I have been briefed on a number of contemporary updates and information. I am not too sure whether that was part of the briefing, but I am kept up to date with contemporary research and literature.