The Director of the Centre of Research Excellence in Food Retail Environments for Health (RE-FRESH), Alfred Deakin Professor Anna Peeters, told attendees there was a window of opportunity for national action following the release of the National Obesity Strategy earlier this year.
She spoke of the benefit that could be gained across the country from a coordinated approach to achieving this strategy’s vision for healthy food retail to support the population to eat healthier diets.
“We know the joint vision of what we want to do – but how do we do it?” said Professor Peters, who also heads Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation.
This work requires a lot of support in implementation, monitoring and communication, so we need to bring together our collective knowledge, tools and strategiesProfessor Anna Peeters
The policy dialogue brought together leading researchers with policy makers handling healthy food retail environments in hospitals and healthcare settings in different jurisdictions around Australia. It showcased several successful sustained initiatives and improvements that have been made in these environments and the breadth of knowledge and experience that exists.
The meeting aimed to facilitate cross-sectoral collaboration on implementation and monitoring and identify areas of opportunity for collaboration.
RE-FRESH research shows that implementing healthy food retail outlets is achievable and can be acceptable to both retailers and consumers.
According to Food EPI – the Healthy Food Environment Policy Index that measures the extent of implementation of healthy food environment policies by governments compared to international best practice – most Australian jurisdictions already have policies in place to regulate the provision of healthy food in healthcare settings.
However, these are not always implemented or sustained due a lack of support and monitoring.
Dr Miranda Blake, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin University, told the meeting that policies that have been successfully implemented and sustained tend to have not only health service support, but also focus on supply chains, retailers’ business needs and consumer preferences.
“It’s very important that practicality and feasibility has been addressed to ensure that mandated healthy food retail changes can realistically be put into place,” she said.
The group identified priority areas and discussed opportunities for future collaboration towards a sustained, coordinated approach to ensuring healthy food is available in healthcare settings in the long term, to improve population health.
An unhealthy diet is recognised as Australians’ leading modifiable risk factor for death and disease, with over one-third of energy intake coming from unhealthy food and drink. All food retailers play a pivotal role in influencing food purchases and healthcare retail food environments are a key setting to promote and model healthy food intake, helping make health and wellbeing easier to achieve for all Australians.