Australia issues new government dietary guidelines: Draft NHMRC guidelines impact Australian food regulation

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 13th December 2011

For the first time in eight years, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has revised its dietary guidelines for Australia.

The NHMRC’s Dietary Guidelines are used by government policy-makers and regulators as well as health professionals, food manufacturers, food retailers, educators, and researchers.

Over 55,000 scientific journal articles were retrieved by a team of nutrition and medical experts employed by the Australian government-appointed NHMRC.

Key recommendations in the NHMRC’s new draft guidelines include:

  • Most Australians will need to increase their intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grain cereal foods, and milk products – particularly reduced fat varieties.
  • Some population groups will need to eat more of some food groups and less of others. For example, some women who consume an omnivore diet are advised to eat more red meat, while some adult males may need to reduce their consumption of meat.
  • More Australians are encouraged to reduce excessive intake of energy-dense nutrient-poor foods and drinks which are high in either saturated fat, salt and added sugar, particularly sugar sweetened drinks, to tackle obesity and diet-related chronic disease.

According to the NHMRC, poor nutrition is responsible for around 16 per cent of the total burden of disease and is implicated in more than 56 per cent of all deaths in Australia. Obesity alone is estimated to cost the Australian economy in excess of A$8 billion per year.

Most of the burden of disease due to poor nutrition in Australia is said to be associated with excessive intake of energy-dense and relatively nutrient-poor foods high in energy (kilojoules), saturated fat, added or refined sugars or salt, and/or inadequate intake of nutrient-dense foods, including vegetables, fruit and wholegrain cereals.

The NHMRC also claims that many Australians are still not following recommended daily intakes of the major food groups and rely too heavily on high energy, low nutrition foods.

Consultation on the draft Australian Dietary Guidelines, incorporating the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, opens on 13 December 2011 and closes on 29 February 2012. To provide feedback or for more information, visit: www.eatforhealth.gov.au.

The NHMRC anticipates the final Dietary Guidelines will be made available during 2012.

Food companies must adapt to the new guidelines

The managing principal of food industry specialist lawyers FoodLegal, Mr Joe Lederman, said that the NHMRC Dietary Guidelines are all part of a ‘big picture’ of major changes that are pending in Australian food regulation.

“The current Federal Government is committed to preventative health policy with healthier diets becoming a key focus of government policy and regulation,” Mr Lederman said.

“The imminent moves include greater government involvement in Australia in food reformulation and restrictions on some forms of food marketing or advertising in relation to high-density low nutrition foods,” he predicted.