World-first advertising campaign warns women about the health impacts, and ineffectiveness, of fad diets

A world-first advertising campaign that warns women about the health impacts, and ineffectiveness, of fad diets has been launched by the Australian Health Minister, Bronwyn Pike.

Ms Pike said the $300,000 campaign, believed to be a first for any government in the world, would aim to educate women about diets, which take a load off Australian women's wallets while putting their health at risk.

"With obesity at alarming levels in Australia, many people are turning to unhealthy, quick-fix solutions to shed weight," Ms Pike said.

"Through this campaign the Bracks Government is attempting to raise awareness about the dangers of fad diets among Victorians tempted to use fad diets to lose excess Christmas weight.

"Up to 200,000 Victorians are estimated to be on diets, such as the Atkins diet, that cut down on or exclude carbohydrates.

"Fad diets may provide short-term results but are difficult to sustain and ultimately they deprive you of essential nutrients only balanced eating can offer.

"They can cause dehydration, weakness, fatigue, nausea, headaches and constipation. Aside from these immediate effects, many of the long-term health dangers of fad diets are still unknown."

Ms Pike said the initiative, part of the Government's Go for Your Life health and fitness campaign, uses the tagline, Over the long term, fad diets won't work.

"Australians spend about $1 million a day on weight-loss programs, drugs and aids in an often futile bid to lose weight," Ms Pike said.

"Our public health campaign will provide information about how Victorians can enjoy a wide range of healthy foods, be physically active and feel better about themselves. A healthy lifestyle can be more effective than a fad diet and it is easier than most people think."

The campaign, which is supported by the Australian Medical Association, highlights the negative effects of fad diets, such as energy loss, putting on more weight than you lost and bad moods.

One in four primary school children have dieted to lose weight, while 13 per cent of young women use extreme weight loss measures weekly.

Ms Pike said fad diets were easy to spot. They promise dramatic results and promote 'magic bullet' solutions such as eating half a grapefruit for each meal. They often exclude food groups such as carbohydrates and have rigid rules such as only eating one food or food group at a time.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victoria weight management and eating behaviour spokesman, Dr Rick Kausman, said the key to healthy weight loss was for people to look at the reasons why they might have gained weight and examine how they can change their behavior.

"The AMA advises against the use of fad or crash 'diets', which make claims of dramatic weight loss or performance enhancement, are often not nutritionally balanced and do not promote healthy eating habits," Mr Kausman.

Mr Kausman said tips included:

  • Decreasing the "non-hungry" eating;
  • Divide food into "every day" food and "sometimes food", rather than "good food" and "bad food";
  • Advising people to take time to nurture and look after ourselves; and
  • Looking for opportunities to enjoy things that involve moving our body, such as dancing and walking.

Ms Pike said fad dieters will lose weight in the first few weeks, but most will put it back on.

"Thousands grapple with fad diets, mistakenly thinking that they themselves are the problem, not their diet," Ms Pike said.

"It is estimated that 95 per cent of dieters will put the weight back on after a year."

Brochures, and posters will be distributed to all GPs, community health centres, universities and TAFE colleges. The campaign will also spread the word in shopping centres, pubs and clubs and on public transport. A comprehensive website has also been developed.

Ms Pike said, as Health Minister, she had an obligation to warn Victorians about the impacts of fad diets, in the same way as the public had been educated about the risks of smoking and alcohol abuse.

"In many cases, people are putting their long-term health at risk by adopting damaging and extreme dietary habits - we need to inform people about the implications of their actions," Ms Pike said.

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