Research question: How much progress is being made by public and private sectors in Australia and internationally in improving food environments and implementing obesity prevention policies?
Research team: Boyd Swinburn (Stream 4 Lead), Michelle Crino, Melissa Mialon, Bruce Neal, Ella Robinson, Gary Sacks, Stefanie Vandevijvere
Institutions: Deakin University, University of Auckland, The George Institute for Global Health
- INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/NCDs Research, Monitoring and Action Support), a global network of public interest organisations and researchers, was established in 2012. It seeks to monitor and benchmark public and private sector actions to create healthy food environments and reduce obesity and NCDs globally. Over 30 countries currently use one or more of the standardised protocols from nine modules with a further 15-20 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa participating from 2019. Examples of modules are outlined below:
- Public sector module: The Food Environments Policy Index (Food-EPI) rates government action across about 40 indicators of food policy and infrastructure. In 2017, the results for Australia were reported for the federal Government and each state / territory. Currently, 23 countries have implemented or are implementing Food-EPI studies, and the first multi-country comparison are in-press in Lancet.
- Private sector module: The Business Impact Assessment for Obesity (BIA-Obesity) tool was developed to rate the commitments of the food industry (food and beverage manufacturers, supermarkets and fast food chains) against best practice for creating healthier food environments. In 2018, three reports assessing the Australian food industry were published for Australia, and the assessment was completed for New Zealand. Canada and Malaysia will publish their results in 2019, along with three other countries.
- Food composition module: FoodSwitch collects data required to monitor and benchmark the nutritional quality of food available in a nation and that can drive global reductions in obesity and NCDs. Data describing about 500,000 food products available in a dozen countries are now held by the system run by The George Institute for Global Health.
- Whilst the federal government is meeting best practice in the implementation of some policies, there are a number of areas where Australia is significantly lagging behind other countries. States and territories vary in their level of implementation of internationally recommended policies.
- Most of the largest Australian food and beverage manufacturers and supermarket chains have some stated commitment to addressing obesity and population nutrition issues, but companies vary substantially in the transparency, comprehensiveness and specificity of their policies and commitments. The majority of the largest fast food chains in Australia do not publicly identify nutrition and health as a focus area, with limited disclosure of company efforts to address obesity and population nutrition issues. Much stronger commitments and actions are needed across the industry.
- There are more than 50,000 packaged food products available for sale in Australia at any one time with about one quarter of products being replaced each year. The markedly different nutritional composition of even very similar products highlights significant potential for changing the nutritional quality of the food system and improving the healthiness of the average diet. These data are being used to support benchmarking and target-setting processes across the Australian food supply with government and industry partners.