Supporting priority actions in the food and nutrition system

Project title: Diet and chronic disease prevention: supporting implementation of priority actions in the food and nutrition system

Start date: May 2018

Estimated end date: 30 June 2020

What is the issue?

Poor diet is the leading preventable risk factor contributing to the burden of disease globally and in Australia. It is a major contributor to the more than $50 billion estimated in annual health care costs and lost productivity from overweight and obesity in Australia.

Less than 1% of Australians eat diets recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and more than 35% of the energy intake of adults and more than 39% of the energy intake of children comes from discretionary food and drinks (those high in added sugar, saturated fat, salt and/or alcohol).

In addition, dietary risks are not distributed equally. Groups who experience greater social disadvantage have poorer diets, and suffer increased risk of malnutrition, obesity and diet-related chronic disease.

We know that poor diets are driven by current food environments and policies which do not support healthy eating. We need to understand how to better influence nutrition policy and ensure governments implement effective actions in the face of competing interests with different levels of power and influence on the food system.

How is the project addressing the issue?

We know the influences on population nutrition are complex, and that multiple policy actions are needed to help improve population diets in Australia. This project builds on previous Prevention Centre research to identify what influences nutrition policy and action, so we can better understand the key leverage points to intervene in the food system.

The project will assess current food environments in each participating jurisdiction; examine how implementation of priority policy actions could be better supported and by which actors; and work with stakeholders and key actors to develop, implement and evaluate specific demonstration projects at multiple levels.

We will use a range of approaches including regulatory and policy science and systems mapping to support stakeholders to improve implementation of evidence-based interventions, including behavioural economics.

Relevance of the project for policy and practice?

This project will provide policy makers and health and nutrition practitioners with assessable and useful information on the current state of Australian food environments, priority nutrition policy actions, and how best to intervene in the food system to improve population nutrition and health.

As a result, the project will generate evidence that helps move beyond the nanny state/individual choice and regulation/deregulation debates that characterise nutrition policy, regulation and governance literature and discourse.

Health professionals will be better equipped to communicate effectively to policy makers, key actors and the public about evidence-based nutrition policy actions, and policy makers will have ready access in user-friendly formats to the information required for evidence-based decision-making around potential nutrition policy actions that can facilitate Australia’s transition to a nutritious, equitable and sustainable food system.

What are the expected outcomes?

This project will progress effective nutrition policy actions in Australia. It aims to improve understanding of Australian food environments and the regulation and governance regime, and identify how best to intervene at key leverage points, including through better regulation.

It will also prioritise potential nutrition policy actions, and generate practical evidence around priority nutrition actions that contribute to low-cost, translatable and scalable solutions

We will:

  • Generate practical evidence around priority actions that contributes to low-cost, translatable and scalable solutions
  • Build on our previous research to address major knowledge gaps regarding the current state of food environments and, importantly, how best to intervene, including by focusing on different forms of governance/regulation at key leverage points in the food and nutrition system
  • Improve effective translation of research through the production of policies, guidelines, tools, case studies and interventions to promote the diet-related health of the population, with a focus on evidence relevant to the range of stakeholders involved in implementation of food and nutrition policies


Project leads

Professor Amanda Lee, University of Queensland

Professor Sharon Friel, Australian National University

Associate Professor Gary Sacks, Deakin University

Professor Anna Peeters, Deakin University

Project team

Dr Kathryn Backholer, Deakin University

Dr Katherine Cullerton, University of Queensland

Ms Meron Lewis, University of Queensland

Cindy Needham, PhD Student, Deakin University

Ella Robinson, Research Fellow, Deakin University

Tom White, Data Scientist, University of Cambridge

Funding for this research has been provided from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF provides funding to support health and medical research and innovation, with the objective of improving the health and wellbeing of Australians. MRFF funding has been provided to The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre under the MRFF Boosting Preventive Health Research Program. Further information on the MRFF is available at