Supporting priority actions in the food and nutrition system

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About

Diet and chronic disease prevention: Supporting implementation of priority actions in the food and nutrition system

Project title

What is the issue?

Unhealthy diets are the leading preventable risk factor contributing to the burden of disease globally and in Australia. They are 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 less healthy diets, and suffer increased risk of malnutrition, obesity and diet-related chronic disease.

We know that unhealthy 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 did the project address 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 identified what influences nutrition policy and action, to better understand what evidence-based actions governments can take to intervene in food systems.

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

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

Relevance of the project for policy and practice?

This work provides 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 food system to improve population nutrition and health.

The project generated evidence to help move beyond the nanny state/individual choice and regulation/deregulation debates that characterise nutrition policy, regulation and governance literature and discourse.

Health professionals are now better equipped to communicate effectively with 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 were the expected outcomes?

This project generated practical evidence around priority nutrition actions that contribute to low-cost, translatable and scalable solutions. Key achievements included:

  • Launch of Australia’s first Food Environment Dashboard bringing together the best available and most up-to-date data on all aspects of Australia’s food environments including key indicators of the healthiness of our food supply, and the ways in which foods are labelled, priced and promoted
  • New evidence demonstrating that healthy, sustainable diets can be less expensive than the current Australian diet, although they are still unaffordable for low-income groups, particularly for those living in remote areas of Australia
  • Development of Healthy Diets ASAP (Australian Standardised Affordability and Pricing) methods protocols for use with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and low socioeconomic groups
  • A deeper understanding of the regulatory governance factors that influence the development and implementation of food marketing, labelling, taxation and composition policies
  • A recipe of regulatory governance conditions that are necessary or sufficient to achieve positive public health nutrition policy outcomes.

News and media

Publications

Other publications

2020

2019

Book

Presentations

  • Lee, A. Invited presentation and delivery of training workshop on the INFORMAS’ Food Prices Module at the first meeting of the African Food Environment Research Network (FERN) Initiative. FERN aims to encourage research collaboration, capacity building, and implementation of innovative food environment research in Africa, and other LMIC settings. Organised by the MEALS4NCDs (Providing measurement, Evaluation, Accountability and Leadership for NCDs Prevention) program based in Ghana. 3-5 November 2020.
  • Lee, A. Invited keynote: A Fork in the Road steps to healthy, equitable and sustainable nutrition policy action. International Conference on Public Health for Tropical and Coastal Development. Lifestyle and Environmental Changes: challenge for public health in coastal and tropical areas. Semarang, Indonesia. 29-30September 2020.
  • Ngqangashe, Y. Framing the impacts of COVID-19: Securing food regulatory policies for the prevention of non-communicable diseases. 2020.
  • Ngqangashe, Y. Regulatory governance for population nutrition webinar. Webinar, School of Regulation and Global Governance, July 2020.
  • Ngqangashe Y. COVID-19, NCDs and the role of food regulation, Rural Health Advocacy project and Healthy Living Alliance (South Africa), 2020.
  • Boelsen-Robinson T. Tools for implementing healthy food retail practices. Nourish Network. May 2020.
  • Lee A. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healthy Diets ASAP (Australian Standardised Affordability and Pricing) methods, Symposium on World Food Day, Melbourne, Australia. 16 October 2019.

Funding

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 www.health.gov.au/mrff.