By Robert Hunt, CEO of Dietitians Australia

Twitter: @dietitians_CEO | LinkedIn: Robert Hunt

This week, we 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 the risk of developing many diet-related chronic health conditions experienced by Australians such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and poor mental health.

But without national support for nutrition, the implications of unhealthy food environments and subsequent food choices are clear. 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 Preventative 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.  Dietitians Australia wants to see more focus on the systemic changes that make it easier for Australians to choose healthy food every day.  To make that possible, we need nutrition-focused policies in the NPHS 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. 

Building social connection through healthy food: Mealtimes 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, prioritising sustainable, and nutritious food sources.

Increasing funding for preventive health: We strongly support the recommendation of the NPHS to increase spending on preventive health to 5% 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.