Changing the face of Australia’s food health

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 28th March 2011

The Australian Government Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King, today chaired the sixth meeting of the Food and Health Dialogue. The Dialogue brings together government, industry and public health groups with the aim of addressing poor dietary habits and making healthier food choices easier and more accessible for all Australians.

The Dialogue is undertaking, as its primary activity, action on food innovation. This includes a voluntary reformulation program to reduce risk-associated nutrients, including salt, sugar, saturated fat, and increase the fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content of commonly consumed foods. This activity is being supported by strategies to standardise and reduce portion sizes and improve consumer awareness of healthier food choices.

“With processed foods now forming a large part of the Australian diet, the influence of manufacturers, retailers and quick service restaurants over what we eat has never been greater,” Ms King said.

“It is important that the food industry considers health outcomes when developing and marketing its products.

“While the Dialogue has already achieved some significant outcomes, and I applaud industry for its commitment, there is still a lot of work to be done,” Ms King said. “I am determined that the Dialogue makes a real difference to the dietary intakes of Australians.”

Members of the Dialogue met in Canberra today and discussed progress against key milestones and priorities. Items included:

Engagement with the Quick Service Restaurant sector

Members welcomed Ms Tracey Monaghan, who was attending her first Dialogue meeting as the representative of the Quick Service Restaurant Forum. Participants on the Forum include McDonalds, Hungry Jacks, Subway, Yum! International (KFC and Pizza Hut), QSR Holdings (Red Rooster, Chicken Treat and Oporto) and Eagle Boys Pizza. Over the coming months Ms Monaghan will work with the Dialogue Executive to develop a strategy to engage quick service restaurants in the Dialogue’s reformulation, portion sizing and consumer messaging activities.

Point-of-sale nutrition information

Members noted the work being undertaken through the Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council on the provision of point-of-sale nutrition information at standard food outlets. At its meeting on 3 December 2010, the Ministerial Council agreed that Australians should have the opportunity when purchasing food from chain fast food outlets to know more about the nutritional content of those foods. The views of Dialogue members will be sought on how best to promote national consistency in the roll-out of any point-of-sale scheme.

Progress reports – Industry Roundtables

Members discussed the progress to date achieved by participants on the industry roundtables, including the agreed sodium reduction targets for simmer sauces, and sodium and saturated fat reduction targets for processed meats. A public announcement is due shortly.

More than three-quarters of the salt consumed by Australians comes from manufactured foods, with processed meats and commercially-produced condiments and sauces being among the largest contributors. Excess salt consumption has been linked with an increased risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), which is in turn a risk factor for heart and kidney disease and stroke.

Processed meats are also a key source of saturated fat, which is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease – the leading cause of death in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2008 cardiovascular disease accounted for 48,000 or 34 per cent of all deaths.

Further information on the agreed simmer sauce and processed meat reformulation targets is available on the Food and Health Dialogue webpage:
Members noted that a roundtable will be held with the soup sector in June 2011, where participants will consider reformulation targets for soups. A roundtable with participants from the processed poultry sector will be held in July/August 2011.

The roundtable will consider reformulation targets for dry coated poultry products, including nuggets, chicken and turkey burgers, and luncheon meats.

Members endorsed savoury pies and large volume cheese as the next priority food categories to be targeted after soups and processed poultry. Engagement with these sectors will commence towards the end of 2011.

Research and modelling

Members noted preliminary outcomes from the review of programs that are being undertaken nationally and internationally to address poor dietary intakes. Among the programs being reviewed are programs from the United Kingdom, Canada and Europe that look at product reformulation, portion size, and consumer messaging. Findings from the review will be used to inform future Dialogue activities. The review is scheduled for completion by mid 2011.

Members also noted the dietary exposure modelling being undertaken by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. The modelling will be used to estimate the potential impacts of the Dialogue’s reformulation activities on population intakes of targeted nutrients such as sodium and saturated fat. Findings are expected in the second half of 2011.
Food and Health Dialogue webpage

To support the communication of Dialogue activities, members noted that efforts are underway to redesign the Food and Health Dialogue webpage. The new site, to be launched in July 2011, will provide information to industry, consumers and public health groups on Dialogue activities, including agreed reformulation targets, as well as further opportunities for industry partners to promote their involvement in the Dialogue.

Members of the Food and Health Dialogue are:

  • Ms Catherine King, Parliamentary Secretary for Health (Chair)
  • Dr Lyn Roberts, Chief Executive Officer, National Heart Foundation of Australia
  • Mr Andrew Hall, Director Corporate and Public Affairs, Woolworths
  • Dr Manny Noakes, Senior Dietitian and Research Scientist, CSIRO
  • Mr Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer, Public Health Association of Australia
  • Ms Kate Carnell, Chief Executive Officer Australian Food and Grocery Council
  • Dr Amanda Lee, Director, Nutrition and Physical Activity Unit, Preventative Health Directorate, Queensland Health (state-territory representative)
  • Ms Tracey Monaghan, Director of Quality Assurance ANZ, McDonald’s Australia (Quick Service Restaurant Forum representative)