A landmark study released last week by Deakin University and the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre echoes the Heart Foundation’s own call for the Tasmanian Government to establish a statewide Food and Nutrition Coalition that aims to address population nutrition and obesity.
Obesity is now one of the leading causes of preventable death and disability and is a major contributory risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. Sadly, in Tasmania, obesity is on the rise. In 2014–15, 67.5% of Tasmanians were overweight or obese, compared with 63.9% in 2007–08. Alarmingly for our children, the most recently available figures from the National Health Survey 2014–15 show an increase in the proportion of Tasmanian children who are overweight or obese, from 18.6% in 2007–08 to 29.8% in 2014–15.
A Food and Nutrition Coalition will be a significant first step to tackling the overweight and obesity problem.
The Policies for tackling obesity and creating healthier food environments report, drawing on expertise from 101 experts from 53 organisations, including nutritionists, health organisations, academics and community groups and coordinated by Dr Gary Sacks, provides further evidence of the need to resource policies that focus on the health and wellbeing of Tasmanians and to enshrine those objectives into state planning.
To this end, the Heart Foundation has worked closely with the Tasmanian Government to create positive legislative change, most recently with the health and wellbeing objective being added to the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993. Subsequently, the Heart Foundation’s representation on the draft State Planning Provisions provided the evidence and provisions to further the health and wellbeing objective for the proposed Tasmanian Planning Scheme. It is unfortunate that not one of the Heart Foundation’s recommendations were adopted in the final version of the Provisions released last week – an opportunity disappointingly missed. It appears from the Tasmanian Planning Commission’s report that they were unable to make modifications to the draft Provisions without a greater policy mandate to do so. We hope that our recommendations can still be applied in the development of the policy framework foreshadowed by the Planning Minister.
With reference to international best practices, the Deakin study applauded Tasmania on its high-level commitments and the implementation of programs to improve healthy food provision in schools but recommended areas where funding, resources and leadership should be improved, including improving the availability of healthy food in retail stores and its promotion in general.
The Heart Foundation has demonstrated success in helping to create a healthier food supply for Tasmanians by rolling out the Healthy Food Access Tasmania project. One of the significant outputs of this project was research undertaken by the University of Tasmania, which showed a clear connection between areas of socio-economic disadvantage and poor access to healthy, affordable food. Additionally, the project funded local healthy food projects, collected and disseminated vital research, and created a web portal that connects food security stakeholders. But the Heart Foundation cannot continue to ‘go it alone’ in this space. A Food and Nutrition Coalition will ensure the further development and extension of these initiatives.
While the financial costs to government of poor access to healthy food are largely a burden at the state level, the drivers of poor healthy food access play out at the local level of the food system. Recent research has identified that there is an emerging interest at the local government level to develop responses that can support community health and wellbeing through better food security.
A Food and Nutrition Coalition would facilitate the development of solutions at a local level, ensuring the improved access creates social and health benefits for community and economic activity for businesses such as local producers/growers and retailers.
Any further delay in implementing our recommendations and those of the Deakin study will exacerbate the emerging trend to overweight and obesity in Tasmania’s population.
Without an ongoing commitment to reverse this trend using an evidence-based, whole-of-government approach, many of us are at greater risk of being condemned to premature disability or death. History will be the judge of our commitment to tackling obesity and creating healthier food environments today. Let’s hope we are judged kindly.
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