Heart Foundation pushing for industry to commit to a food reformulation strategy

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 16th April 2009

The Heart Foundation is calling for a national food reformulation strategy as part of their extensive plan to tackle the alarming rates of cardiovascular disease in Australia.

Dr Lyn Roberts, CEO of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, said yesterday that the food industry needs to provide further support to the community with regard to healthier choices.

“The need now is for Australians to live in a community, in a neighbourhood that supports them to make better, healthier choices,” she proclaimed in her address to the National Press Club. “Shopping, for example, is a complex exercise. Greater choice doesn’t equal better decisions. There’s more opportunity for shoppers to get it wrong and be influenced by clever marketing and product positioning, ending up at the checkout with an unbalanced, expensive trolley of food.”

With more parents working full-time, less time is being spent preparing food and more money used on eating out, all of which presents a new challenge to the Heart Foundation, Dr Roberts said.

“The advent of fast food presents major challenges. It’s all too easy to grab a meal on the way home from work and not realise that the bargain takeaway is loaded with saturated fats and salt,” she claimed.

Dr Roberts advised that the Heart Foundation was really pleased with the efforts made by the 80 ‘Tick’ food companies to produce healthier foods, but believes much more needs to be done – as the number of Tick products has not increased at the same rate as the expansion of choice that now bombards the shopper in the supermarket.

Heart healthy food

“The Heart Foundation is determined to change the nation’s food supply. Poor nutrition is a major risk factor for heart disease, impacting not only on the health of our arteries, but also the weight of our bodies. We need to eat less salt, less saturated fat, less trans fats, consume fewer kilojoules and eat more fruit and vegetables,” she stated. “Our Tick program has done much to improve the food supply over the past 20 years, working with food companies to reformulate their food. And with one in three meals now eaten away from the home, we’ve taken the Tick out of the supermarket and into workplace canteens, catering companies and … fast food restaurants.”

“But we now want to go further we want to take the Tick principles that is reformulating food to make a healthier product and apply them across the board.”

To illustrate her point Dr Roberts highlighted the use of two oils, palm and canola, and compared their similar use in the food industry.

“Palm oil is used for frying and also in a wide range of products from biscuits to ice cream, pastry to chocolate. A canola, sunflower blend of oils is also used for frying. The question is, which contains the most saturated fat?” she asked. “Palm oil contains around 55% saturated fat. The sunflower, canola blend has a fraction as much saturated fat – around 12%. Even lard at around 39% – contains less saturated fat than palm oil. If we can get food companies and takeaway outlets to substitute palm oil with oils low in saturated fat, we could make a very big impact on public health.”

“We’d like all major companies and fast food outlets to join a national food supply strategy that will move them from products like palm oil and onto much healthier alternatives.”

Dr Roberts believes Australia could look to the UK as a good starting point, where the Food Standards Agency is working across a range of areas from saturated fat to sugar and salt as well as other issues such as portion size.

“Australia needs a national food strategy that tackles these issues in a comprehensive way. It’s a very cheap and effective way of achieving our fundamental mission reducing death and suffering caused by CVD. It also an issue that the government and industry has taken an active interest in and we look forward to further dialogue about what might be achieved through an effective food reformulation strategy,” she concluded.