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Food is a critical weapon in preventing chronic disease

Introduction by Croakey: Croakey has published a series of articles on calls to strengthen the Federal Government’s draft National Preventive Health Strategy.

In the post below, Dietitians Australia CEO Robert Hunt welcomes the long-urged focus in the draft on food and nutrition, but argues the Strategy needs to be further strengthened, including through prioritising the impact of climate on health, setting a target on food security and making the Health Star Rating system mandatory.

Like many other public health organisations, Dietitians Australia supports the draft Strategy’s proposal to increase the investment in preventive health from the current 1.7 per cent of the health budget to 5 per cent by 2030, with the current level described.

The Australian Medical Association has labelled the current investment in preventive health in Australia as “woefully inadequate and far below the example set by similar countries in the OECD”, and its submission also calls for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and a volumetric tax on alcohol to source revenue for increased funding.

The AMA welcomes robust policy recommendations on health literacy, tobacco control, alcohol and other drugs, nutrition, physical activity, immunisation, mental health and cancer screening, but calls for the Strategy to acknowledge climate change mitigation as a key preventive health opportunity and making sure all targets are measurable and time-bound.

In its submission, the Healing Foundation is calling for the experiences of intergenerational trauma — including the harmful legacy of colonisation, the history of high numbers of children removed from their families, the incarceration of young people, family violence, direct racism, and systemic racism — to be recognised and addressed in the Strategy as an underlying cause of poor health.

“At its core, the National Preventive Health Strategy must strive for truth telling and an end to institutional racism in the health system,” said Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth.


Robert Hunt writes:

Robert Hunt, CEO Dietitians Australia

Dietitians Australia has responded to the Federal Government’s long-awaited draft National Preventive Health Strategy (NPHS).

As CEO of Dietitians Australia — the leading voice of nutrition and dietetics representing more than 7,700 nutrition professionals — I’m pleased to see the draft strategy recognise the pivotal role that food and nutrition plays in good health.

Nutritious food can reduce our risk of developing diet-related chronic health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and poor mental health.

Now, just under half of all Australian adults report having one or more chronic conditions, after years of Federal inaction in health prevention.

Dietitians Australia has been calling for a national focus on nutrition for many years, and the release of the draft National Preventive Health Strategy is an important step in the right direction for the health of our nation.

Implementing effective nutrition-based policies and interventions is vital to avoid a society overrun by the social and economic impacts of poor health.

Food insecurity is also on the rise in Australia. Figures released by Foodbank Australia show that in 2019, one in five Australians did not have enough food and were unable to buy more. Twenty-two per cent of those were children.

It’s a shocking reality that health and food inequality continues to exist in Australia. Being able to access safe and nutritious food at an affordable price is a basic human right and is it vital that every Australian can access the food they need to survive and thrive.

We’d like to see a target that specifically addresses food security in the Strategy, particularly for vulnerable people and remote communities. Community engagement is a must to ensure the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are heard.

Taking a stronger focus on systemic changes will make it easier for Australians to choose healthy food every day, rather than placing all the responsibility on the individual.

We also need nutrition-focused policies in the Strategy that enable long-term, sustainable change. This includes:

Focus on food literacy in schools: School age is a perfect time for kids to foster a positive relationship with food and develop skills to prepare food and plan meals. These are enablers for enjoying a nutritious diet over a lifetime.

Making healthy foods easy to choose: Healthy food needs to be accessible to everyone. Fruit, vegetables and other nutritious foods must remain GST-free, keeping healthy food cheaper and more accessible than energy dense, nutrient poor foods.

The Health Star Rating system must be regularly evaluated to ensure Australians have the access to the best information to make a healthier choice when choosing packaged foods.

For this tool to be meaningful and effective for Australians, it needs to be mandatory. Under the currently voluntary system, it’s only applied to 40% of eligible products.

It’s also important the Strategy encompasses food labelling and marketing, to ensure the information supplied is truthful and allows consumers to make an informed choice.

Building social connection through healthy food: Meal times are ideal for bringing people together and fostering social connections.

Supporting a food supply rich in healthy and sustainable foods: The food supply needs to include more wholefoods than highly processed foods, particularly foods with less saturated fats and added sugar.

We also need to foster and invest in our local food production sector, with a focus on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and prioritising sustainable and nutritious food sources.

We would like the impact of climate on health to be a more prominent feature of the Strategy, particularly to safeguard national food security.

Increasing funding for preventive health: We strongly support the recommendation of the draft Strategy to increase spending on preventive health to 5 percent of total health expenditure. This will bring Australia in line with other international leaders in preventive health and help to reduce overall health spending in the longer term.

All life stages need to be included in preventive health programs, and governments need to recognise that there are many influences on health that are outside an individuals’ control.

Let’s support all Australians without judgement or stigma to be physically active and adopt healthy eating habits.

It is time to eat our way to good health.

You can follow Robert Hunt on Twitter at: @dietitians_CEO


See previous Croakey articles on prevention.

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International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017