An open letter to the Victorian Government about the benefits of investing in preventive health

Dear Premier and the Victorian Government,

We are writing to you today to call for a commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of all Victorians, and preventing avoidable causes of illness, through a continued investment in state-wide preventive health strategies in the 2015 state budget.

Obesity and ‘lost wellbeing’ from obesity are estimated to cost Australia around $58.2 billion a year1, and poor nutrition and high body mass have overtaken tobacco use as the greatest burden of disease in Australia. Nearly two thirds of Australian adults and one quarter of children are considered overweight or obese2. Yet only 6% of Australian adults eat the recommend amount of fruits and vegetables each day3, and more than one third of our daily energy intake comes from energy dense, nutrient poor (EDNP) foods and drinks such as confectionery, cakes, pastries, salty snacks, deep fried foods and sugary drinks4.

The need to shift this balance in favour of better health could not be clearer.

Nutrition Australia Vic Division has a seven year history of delivering programs for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that aim to improve healthy eating in Victoria. Since 2012, we have developed and delivered the Healthy Eating Advisory Service (HEAS) under the state-wide Healthy Together Victoria initiative. HEAS aims to make healthier foods and drinks more available in early childhood services, schools, and hospitals in Victoria, plus supporting workplaces in 12 funded local government areas.

HEAS supports these community settings to supply healthier foods and drinks by providing information, training, menu assessments and consultancy services. We also work with the food industry to improve the food supply across the state, through product reformulation and promotion of healthier products. As a free, state-wide service, HEAS provides equitable access to support to all communities in Victoria, including those in disadvantaged and lower socio-economic areas.

Through HEAS, Nutrition Australia Vic Division acts as a key nutrition advisory body to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy Together Victoria partners, and the 12 Healthy Together Communities.

To date the state government’s investment in the Healthy Eating Advisory Service has enabled us to:

  • support 2,800 early childhood services, schools and retail outlets
  • engage with 1,300 retail food outlets, hospitals, workplaces and caterers
  • complete more than 630 menu assessments
  • train staff from early childhood services, schools and food outlets in 30 local government areas.

Of the school canteen menus we have assessed, healthy foods and drinks now make up 45% more of the menus than they used to, while unhealthy energy dense, nutrient poor foods and drinks have decreased from 19% of these menus to 1%. We’ve also increased the proportion of long day care services that provide adequate vegetables from only 20% of the assessed menus to 100% of them, and have phased out unhealthy foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.

As a result 32,000 Victorian children have greater access to healthier foods and drinks in early childhood services and schools.

We’ve also working towards increasing the proportion of healthy foods and drinks in retail outlets and vending machines, to fill at least 50% of the menu/range respectively*.

HEAS also acts a key consulting body for large organisations to comply with relevant nutrition guidelines, and to embed healthy eating into their policies and practices, such as supporting YMCA Victoria to remove all sugary drinks from sale in all locations across the state.

In 2013-2014, additional funding has enabled us to work closely with Victorian government departments to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Update the 2006 Department of Education and Training School Canteen and School Food Services Policy.
  • Update the 2010 Department of Health and Human Services Healthy Choices food and drinks guidelines for hospitals, and broaden their scope to encompass implementation support resources for workplaces and community recreation settings.
  • Commenced working with Parks Victoria to implement Healthy Choices guidelines in all food and drinks outlets in Parks Victoria sites, including those supplied at community events.
  • Embark on a 12 month project with national food distributor, PFD Foods, to review and categorise 3,360 products against nutrition guidelines for schools and retail food outlets. The categories will be published in PFD’s product catalogues to assist wholesale buyers to select healthier options, thus increasing the availability of healthier foods and drinks in Victorian schools and retail food outlets.

All of this has occurred in only three years, and it would not and could not have happened if not for a visionary investment by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services in the Healthy Together Victoria initiative.

However this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is so much more change to be made, so many more sectors, organisations and individuals to reach.

We must continue providing free and funded support to all 4,600 early childhood services, primary and secondary schools in Victoria, and to support all 5.3 million Victorians to have increased access to healthy foods and drinks in their communities.

We implore the new Victorian government to continue investing in a large-scale, state-wide preventive health strategy. One that supports community settings to become health promoting environments. One that engages and incentivises businesses to support health though goods, services, policies and practices. One that empowers individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Let’s you and us, and the rest of Victoria, continue working together to improve the health and wellbeing of all Victorians where they live, learn, work and play.

Sincerely,

Lucinda Hancock    
Executive Officer    
Nutrition Australia Vic Division   

Margaret Rozman
Team Leader, Healthy Eating Advisory Service
Nutrition Australia Vic Division

*Correction: A previous version of this letter said we have helped increase the proportion of healthy foods and drinks in retail outlets and vending machines to 45% and 60% of the menu/range respectively. These figures were incorrect.

 

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