Engaging the food service sector to encourage healthier eating

24 November 2017

An evidence review conducted by the Prevention Centre is informing a Federal Government initiative that will engage with the food service sector in a bid to improve the nutritional profile of food people consume out of home.

With 2 to 3 meals a week now eaten out of the home and 51.5 million visits to fast food outlets each month, engaging the $45 billion Australian food service sector is seen as critical in improving the health of the food supply and helping more Australians achieve diets that align with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

The Department of Health’s Healthy Food Partnership is bringing together stakeholders from government, public health and the food industry to cooperatively tackle obesity, encourage healthy eating and empower food manufacturers to make positive changes.

It commissioned the Prevention Centre to conduct a rapid review of evidence around international food service initiatives to see which had had an impact on public health and identify the components needed for an effective scheme to improve the healthiness of food and drinks offered to the public.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the evidence review formed part of a stream of work to improve the food supply for which the food service sector was responsible.

The aim was to find simple and effective voluntary commitments from industry to optimise the nutritional profile of food and beverages provided in food service settings, such as placement and promotion of healthier options, a range of portion sizes, reformulation, and availability of information for consumers.

“It’s very much about collaboration and bringing everyone together from the outset to collectively build the Partnership’s activities,” she said.

The evidence review found several international strategies being employed by the food service sector had considerable potential to improve health and reduce the burden of obesity and diet-related health problems.

However, schemes implemented in Australia to date had largely relied on raising public awareness and relying on consumers to make healthy choices. “The evidence shows that these schemes are generally ineffective, indicating that more comprehensive actions are needed,” the review found.

The Food Service Working Group of the Healthy Food Partnership is using the report to inform the development of a Food Service Pledge Scheme through which Australian food service businesses will be able to commit to pledges with the broader purpose of making food supply in Australia healthier.

Under the Food Service Pledge Scheme, the Partnership will work with food service businesses to make pledges and commit to voluntary actions. Actions will help consumers to reduce consumption of risk-associated nutrients; ensure appropriate energy and nutrient intake; and increase consumption of five food group foods in accordance with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, at the population level.

Companies will have access to resources, endorsed by the Healthy Food Partnership, which can help highlight the positive changes they have made.

Further information about the Healthy Food Partnership is online at www.health.gov.au/healthyfoodpartnership