Diet is one of the most modifiable risk factors for chronic disease and therefore should be a key focus of governments’ health policies. Yet despite the fact that Australia is facing an ‘epidemic’ of chronic disease, we have not had a national nutrition policy since the National Food and Nutrition Policy was developed in 1992.
In 2011 a COAG Report recommended the urgent development of a new national nutrition policy to meet the needs of contemporary Australia and in 2013 a scoping study provided a framework and strategic direction for this policy. However, three years later the policy has still not been developed and the rates of obesity, type 2 Diabetes and other diet-related health problems continue to rise.
Following his critique of the implementation of the Review Report for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan 2000-2010, Dr Mark Lock has provided the following analysis of the failure of the Government to progress the proposed national nutrition policy, including an extensive review of the scoping study for the policy, which he obtained under FOI.
Dr Mark Lock writes:
After a lengthy freedom of information request (more of that story here), I paid $875 to receive a $203,684 taxpayer funded paper. Officially titled “Scoping study to inform development of the National Nutrition Policy for Australia”
The Scoping paper arrived as a hard copy only, all 748 pages doubled-sided with two pages per side in 8 point font. Not very user-friendly, and certainly not value for money – no binding, no pdf, no cover, and not even a suggested citation! So I’ll convert each chapter to a pdf and upload to dropbox over the coming weeks.
Partial Unofficial Citation “Lee A, Baker P, Stanton R, Friel S, O’Dea K et al. Scoping study to inform development of the National Nutrition Policy for Australia, QUT, 20 July 2013, pp748, Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra.
Professor Amanda Lee, from the Queensland University of Technology, led a team which included Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM (biography here) and Professor Kerin O’Dea (biography here) to conduct the scoping study.
Why the secrecy?
It was in January 2011 when the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation agreed to develop a comprehensive national nutrition policy, as stated on the Australian Government Department of Health’s website (page last updated 2013). The Scoping study was a part of the plan and was tendered for in February 2013 (AusTender):
The Scoping study cover shows the date of 20 July 2013, and only now is available to Australian citizens in March 2016. Why has it taken an FOI request to make the Scoping study public? Why has it taken five years (2011 to 2016) to get only this Scoping study conducted in the broader plan to develop an Australian National Nutrition Policy?
This is in the context of a key quote from the Scoping study where (p.7-8):
The evidence identified in this scoping study confirms that a new comprehensive nutrition policy is required urgently in Australia to address the high and increasing rates of diet‐related disease and risk factors, including overweight and obesity, and to promote the health and wellbeing of the population, particularly vulnerable groups.
If it was urgent in 2013, what is it in 2016?
Nutrition Policy and Vulnerable Groups
In relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nutrition, an FOI request was required to receive the Review Report for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan 2000-2010. My Croakey post “Shame and disgrace in the governance of food and nutrition policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” exposed
how ineffective governance processes of the Australian State perpetuate social inequality for disadvantaged Australian citizens
Recently, Professor Stephen Simpson’s op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald asked “Diet is the single most important factor in the chronic disease epidemic facing Aboriginal communities. So where’s the policy?” A few days later, Amanda Lee and Nicole Turner posted an article in The Conversation “we can close the Indigenous nutrition gap – here’s how”. However, Australian Government health ministers have remained absolutely silent, providing no transparency and accountability for this massive governance failure (related post here).
Australian citizens bear the burden of poor leadership in nutrition policy
And the governance failure is but part of the stalled development of Australia’s national nutrition policy, highlighting a lack of leadership (post here). As a result, Australian’s continue to bear the burden of diet and nutrition issues (from the Scoping study executive summary, link here):
- the majority of Australians suffer from at least one diet-related health condition,
- poor diet contributes to at least 16% of the burden of disease in Australia,
- poor diet was implicated in more than 56% of all deaths in 1992 (no current data),
- currently (at 2013) cancers, about 30% of which are caused by poor diet, are Australia’s leading cause of disease burden (19%), followed by cardiovascular disease (16%) for which diet is also a major causal factor,
- high rates of obesity in men, women, and children,
- some sections of the community, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the very young, the very old, those living with disabilities, those residing in remote areas, people from culturally and linguistically diverse groups and those in lower socioeconomic groups, suffer higher rates of diet‐related ill health than other Australians,
- the current (2013) cost of poor nutrition in Australia is now likely to greatly exceed $5 billion per year (1990 costings), given the direct and total costs of obesity alone have been estimated respectively to be $8.3 billion per year and $37.7–$56.6 billion per year,
- a healthy diet costs 40% of the disposable income of a welfare dependant family compared with 20% for families on the average income,
- healthy foods cost around 30% more in rural and remote areas than in capital cities, and
- about 5% of the Australian population and 24% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people report food insecurity every year.
Are these facts and figures enough to get Australian Governments to work together for the improved nutritional health and wellbeing of Australian citizens?
The FOI required to obtain the “Scoping study to inform development of the National Nutrition Policy for Australia” raises not only the seriousness of nutrition and diet related issues for our health and wellbeing, but beggars disbelief in the poor governance and stewardship of national nutrition policy (related post here). Therefore, further to the recommendations of the Scoping study should be one about governance highlighting the need for the development of a nutrition governance policy and strategy. In the coming weeks we shall see how Australia’s governments respond.
Dropbox Link to executive summary and chapter 1 (large file warning – 18.6MB)
Dr Mark J Lock is an ARC Discovery Indigenous Research Fellow at the School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle.