Poor diets that are high in salt and sugar or excess energy and don’t include sufficient quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables are contributing to a whole host of non-communicable diseases. That’s why we’re undertaking research that supports healthier food choices.
Our main areas of focus are food reformulation, monitoring changes in the food supply, and developing and testing innovative approaches to support consumers to make better food choices.
How can we improve our diets?
Maintaining a healthy diet is challenging when we’re surrounded by processed foods laden in sugar, salt and saturated fat. It’s also challenging our health system with excess weight a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers.
Creating healthy food environments
So how can we eat better when our supermarket shelves are full of products that are making us sick?
We’re working with governments around the world to develop strategies to improve the food environment, including helping to develop reformulation targets for processed foods, improving food labelling, engaging the food industry to reduce levels of salt and sugar in foods and meals, and improve the quality of food available in schools and hospitals.
Our programs reducing salt in Fiji and Samoa have already influenced policy and practice. Our teams are working with the World Health Organization, universities and governments to build advocacy and find the most effective ways to make the food we eat less harmful for our health.
It’s also about ensuring the public is armed with knowledge about know how to pick the healthiest choice. That’s why we launched the FoodSwitch phone application which helps supermarket shoppers find out what’s in food products and directs them to healthier options.
Such food awareness programs are proving successful not just in Australia but around the world. Our researchers in China are encouraging people to read the labels on packaged foods to see what they are buying.
With obesity, diabetes and hypertension levels reaching epidemic status in almost every corner of the world, it’s vital that policies to improve the food supply are introduced.
Improving consumer choices
We are working with governments around the world to explore how better food systems can improve consumer food choices. Our FoodSwitch program tracks the healthiness of national food supplies by collating detailed information about the nutritional value of food products for sale.
FoodSwitch currently holds data on more than 500,000 items from a dozen countries. In Australia it has driven enhancements to the national Health Star Rating system, a world-leading food labelling program. We have also supported strategy development for salt and sugar reduction in Hong Kong, are supporting the development of a national salt reduction strategy for China and are working with government partners in the Pacific Islands to improve local food supplies.