WIMMERA health groups believe there is a need for greater understanding about alcohol-related harms.

It comes as Deakin University analysis released this week shows a levy based on alcoholic content could help reduce consumption and lead to significant health benefits, particularly in reducing obesity rates.

Western Victoria Primary Health Network chief executive Leanne Beagley said such a measure could be one option for tackling obesity and other alcohol-related health issues, but said a multi-faceted approach would be more effective.

“There is still a lack of understanding across the general population about the ‘hidden carbohydrates’ in alcohol that contribute to obesity, and the associated health risks of being obese,” she said.

“Increasing public awareness and education about the impact alcohol has on weight and health generally would be helpful, and starts with prevention.

“Tackling obesity needs a multi-pronged approach where people are encouraged to review their diet and also be more active. The recent YCHANGe program run in the Yarriambiack area this year through Deakin University and Rural Northwest Health is a great example of how to encourage healthy eating early in life.

“The program aimed to create a community environment where the healthy choice is the easier option, with healthier food provided in schools, kindergartens and sporting clubs.

“We would recommend such a wraparound approach to all things diet and lifestyle to tackle obesity as it is a complex problem, and a contributing factor to a range of illnesses.”

Dr Beagley said people needed to be aware that alcohol consumption has been linked to some cancers, liver issues and mental ill health.

“If you pair this with a poor diet and inactivity, which often comes with obesity, the risk factors for ill health are sure to increase,” she said.

Wimmera Drug Action Taskforce co-ordinator Sally Pymer said a tax was a good start, but agreed a combination of measures to reduce alcohol harms was needed.

“I think a large number of people are unaware of the harms related to alcohol, and a large number don’t want to know,” she said.

“In talking to people many will comment on someone they know who has been drinking alcohol for years and has no apparent health problems.

“People also don’t appear to want to see the connection between alcohol and cancers, cardiovascular disease, liver problems and other health problems. More education around the harms of alcohol is needed.”

Ms Pymer said banning alcohol advertising during televised sporting events, eliminating alcohol-related sponsorships, and reducing the number of alcohol outlets would also help reduce consumption.