Australia's Food Environment Dashboard

Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard

Why do we need Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard?

Unhealthy diets are a major public health issue in Australia. Along with obesity, unhealthy diets are leading contributors to poor health, and have a high cost to the Australian economy. Fewer than 7% of people in Australia consume a healthy diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines. More than one-third of adults’ and more than 40% of children’s energy intake comes from ‘discretionary’ food and drinks – foods and drinks that are not needed for health and are often high in added sugar, saturated fat, and/or sodium (1).

The food environment includes all the places we access food, the types of food available and their nutritional quality, the price and affordability of different foods and diets, and the way food is marketed to us, including through ads, promotions and information on food packages. Food environments are influenced by government regulations as well as food company policies.

There is widespread recognition that unhealthy diets and obesity are driven by food environments in which unhealthy foods and drinks are readily available, highly promoted, and often relatively cheap (2).

In order to improve population diets, there needs to be a transition towards healthy food environments, in which the foods, beverages, and meals that contribute to a healthy diet are widely available, affordably priced, and widely promoted, whilst the availability, accessibility, and marketing of unhealthy foods are substantially reduced.

Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard aims to provide an overall picture of the healthiness of Australian food environments, highlighting areas where action is required to support healthy diets for Australians. This dashboard contributes to the work of INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support). INFORMAS is a global network of public-interest organisations and researchers that aims to monitor, benchmark and support public and private sector actions to increase healthy food environments and reduce obesity and NCDs and their related inequalities. INFORMAS is currently active in >55 countries (3).

What does Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard include?

Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard brings together the best-available and most up-to-date data to describe the healthiness of Australia’s food environments from research institutions and government departments across the country. The dashboard covers the key aspects of food environments including data on food composition, food labelling, food prices and affordability, food promotion, food retail, and government and food company policies.

The dashboard provides:

  • An overview of each important aspect of food environments and why it is important to population nutrition and health.
  • A summary of key indicators of the healthiness of food environments with a traffic light score for each indicator, so users can easily see where food environments are likely to promote health (‘green’), need further improvement to promote health (‘amber’), and are unhealthy (‘red’).
  • A summary of recommendations for government, industry, academics, and those working in public health.
  • Links to relevant reports, journal articles and other sources so users can access more information.

Who should use Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard?

The Dashboard is designed to provide easy-to-digest information for anyone interested in Australia’s food environment, but will be especially useful for:

  • informing policy makers at all levels of government
  • providing the most up-to-date statistics and research findings to support public health advocacy groups in developing their messaging and campaigns
  • summarising data and key messages for media outlets
  • providing researchers and academics with a summary of the latest research and highlighting research gaps.

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Acknowledgments

The following institutions and organisations contributed to Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard:

Data also provided by New South Wales Health, Western Australia Department of Health and the Northern Territory Department of Health.

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Sources:
(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.007 – Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12: Discretionary foods Australian Government; 2015.  https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.007~2011-12~Main%20Features~Discretionary%20foods~700.
(2) Swinburn BA, Sacks G, Hall KD, McPherson K, Finegood DT, et al. (2011) The global obesity pandemic:shaped by global drivers and local environments.Lancet378(9793):804–14
(3) Sacks, G., Kwon, J., Vandevijvere, S. and Swinburn, B. (2020) Benchmarking as a Public Health Strategy for Creating Healthy Food Environments: An Evaluation of the INFORMAS Initiative (2012–2020). Annual Review of Public Health, 42.