Earlier this month, the Medical Journal of Australia published an article with the headline “Time to commit to good food policy”. After all, the most recent food and nutrition policy was released in 1992. A new National Nutrition Policy has been in the making for years.
Meanwhile, nearly two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese and unhealthy diets are leading to chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. At the same time, we have access to more and more research evidence that could help us in turning this dire situation around.
In the US, as a recent study documented, a diet of mostly subsidised foods increases cardiometabolic risk factors:
Researchers followed 10,308 American participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and measured the percentage of calories consumed from subsidized foods, body weight, blood pressure, inflammation measures, and cholesterol levels. Those who consumed the highest amount of subsidized foods, including high-fat meat and dairy products, were 41 percent and 21 percent more likely to be overweight and have elevated blood sugars, respectively, compared with those who consumed the least amount of subsidized foods. Those participants also saw an increase in their cholesterol levels and consumed low amounts of fruits and vegetables. The authors call for more aligned policies between agriculture and nutritional goals in an effort to curb rising obesity rates.
I am not aware of a similar study here in Australia. But it would be interesting.
Other countries or jurisdictions have already started to take action. For example:
- a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico and the UK
- China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% (although at the same time China is preparing to increase its life cattle import from Australia to around 1 million animals a year). And Arnold Schwarzenegger is involved in promoting the plan.
- The new mayor of Turin wants the city to become Italy’s first vegetarian city. Go, Chiara Appendino!
Some Australians don’t wait for the Federal Government’s new food policy. A CSIRO and University of Adelaide study published last year found that one in six Australians now avoid dairy products. This was of concern to the researchers. BTW, the study was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation and looked also at the avoidance of wheat.
There are good reasons to avoid dairy products: they have been linked to various cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
But back to our food policy, or rather the lack of it. While we’re waiting for the new National Nutrition Policy, we have a Healthy Food Partnership which “aims to improve the dietary habits of Australians by making healthier food choices easier and more accessible and by raising awareness of better food choices and portion sizes”.
And who are the partners? The Executive Committee of the Partnership includes representatives from:
- Australian Food and Grocery Council
- National Heart Foundation of Australia
- Metcash (Independent Grocers)
- Public Health Association of Australia
- Quick Service Restaurant Forum
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand
- Dietitians Association of Australia
- Meat and Livestock Australia
- Dairy Australia
Dr Rosemary Stanton, perhaps Australia’s most respected nutritionist and dietician, has argued that such an initiative would only be effective if it was independent of the food industry. I agree with her.
No need to wait for government food policy. The evidence is pointing to a plant-based whole-food diet.
Recently published articles in peer-reviewed journals concerned with nutrition and health:
This systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention trials found that plant-based diets improve obesity-related inflammation: Effect of plant-based diets on obesity-related inflammatory profiles: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention trials
This study shows that red meat intake may increase the risk of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) in the general population and substituting alternative sources of protein may reduce the incidence of ESRD: Red meat intake and risk of ESRD
Plant-based diets: A physician’s guide. Abstract — Because of the ever-increasing body of evidence in support of the health advantages of plant-based nutrition, there is a need for guidance on implementing its practice. This article provides physicians and other health care practitioners an overview of the myriad benefits of a plant-based diet as well as details on how best to achieve a well-balanced, nutrient-dense meal plan. It also defines notable nutrient sources, describes how to get started, and offers suggestions on how health care practitioners can encourage their patients to achieve goals, adhere to the plan, and experience success.
The findings from this study support recommendations to replace saturated fat and trans-fat with unsaturated fats: Association of specific dietary fats with total and cause-specific mortality.
In this study, a vegan diet was found to be better for glycemic control than a conventional diet: Effect of a Brown Rice Based Vegan Diet and Conventional Diabetic Diet on Glycemic Control of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A 12-Week Randomized Clinical Trial