A comprehensive government response is needed to improve population diets and create healthier food environments. There is expert consensus internationally on the range of policy actions that are required, including in the areas of health, education, finance, sport and recreation, and several other sectors. Governments at all levels, including the commonwealth, state/territory and local governments, need to develop and implement multiple strategies as part of a co-ordinated policy approach to addressing unhealthy diets and preventing obesity.
Food Policy Index: In 2017, each jurisdiction in Australia (federal and state/territory governments) was assessed by over 100 public health experts on the extent to which they have implemented globally recommended food and nutrition policies. In 2019, the progess that each jurisdiction had made against the 2017 recommendations was assessed. The full assessment is being repeated in 2021 (results expected in 2022).
- In 2017, Australia was assessed as meeting best practice in the implementation of some policies, including:
- Aspects of food labelling (such as the development of the Health Star Rating scheme, and regulations on health claims)
- Food prices (no GST on basic foods)
- Regular monitoring of population body weight
- There were a number of areas where Australia was identified as lagging substantially behind other countries in their efforts to address unhealthy diets and obesity including:
- Restricting exposure of children to the promotion of unhealthy foods
- Taxing unhealthy foods, such as sugar-sweetened drinks
- Establishment of an independent health promotion agency
- Development of a comprehensive national food and nutrition implementation plan
- Economic evaluation of key policy options for obesity prevention has shown that preventive policy action is likely to be highly cost-effective in the Australian context.
- The ongoing development of a National Obesity Strategy has the potential to address the gaps identified.
State and Territory governments
- The 2017 Food Policy Index assessment indicated that states and territories vary in their level of implementation of internationally recommended policies. Policies in some states / territories were recognised as meeting global best practice benchmarks, including:
- Menu labelling regulations (ACT/NSW/QLD/SA/VIC)
- Support and training systems to help schools and organisations to provide healthy foods (VIC)
- Independent health promotion agencies (VIC/WA/QLD/SA)
- The 2019 Food Policy Index progress update recognised key actions taken by each jurisdiction, including:
- New South Wales: Implementation of comprehensive food provision policies in schools and health facilities, including detailed auditing and compliance monitoring
- Victoria: Supporting public and private-sector settings to implement healthy food policies, through the Healthy Eating Advisory Service and the Achievement Program
- ACT: Removal of unhealthy food and drink advertisements on Canberra’s public bus network
- Western Australia: Banning the advertisement of alcohol on public transport, including train infrastructure, digital billboards and buses
- Northern Territory: Ongoing support for remote communities/stores to improve availability of healthy foods and limit availability / sales of unhealthy foods
- Tasmania: Funding grants for community access to local, healthy foods
- Queensland: Commitment to establish a state-wide health promotion agency
- South Australia: Commitment to establish Wellbeing SA as a Prevention, Health Promotion and Primary Health Care agency
- All States and Territories have policies for healthy school food provision, but they differ in the way the policies are applied and the extent to which implementation is monitored and supported.
- There is considerable potential for leading policy initiatives, programs and supporting infrastructure to be applied more broadly across jurisdictions.
Refer to Indicator Assessment Criteria at the bottom of the page.
- Local governments can make a significant contribution to improving the healthiness of food environments. Potential action areas include land use planning, food procurement, sport and recreation, and provision of resources and education to communities.
- In Australia, local governments vary in the extent to which they are taking action to create healthy food environments.
- In New South Wales, a 2020 study noted that local governments were commonly taking action on reducing food waste, providing food/meal services for disadvantaged groups, and providing information/education on food and nutrition. The same study identified that some councils also supported urban/local food production and markets selling fresh, healthy food.
- In Victoria, a 2018 survey demonstrated that obesity prevention and promotion of healthy food and drinks were a moderate to high priority for councils. 55% of councils had increased the priority given to healthy food promotion over the previous year.
- Few local governments have taken action to restricting opening of unhealthy food outlets, encouraging the opening of healthy food outlets, or reducing unhealthy food marketing.
- In 2021/2022, a new tool to assess local government progress in creating healthy and environmentally sustainable food environments will be developed, as part of the Food Policy Index initiative.
There is broad consensus amongst the public health community regarding the priority actions needed from the Federal Government to address unhealthy diets in Australia.
Priority actions include:
- Developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to improve population diets in Australia, with annual performance and process targets that are closely monitored.
- Implementing a health levy on sugar-sweetened drinks (tiered based on sugar content), and invest revenue raised into public health interventions.
- Implementing comprehensive regulations to reduce the exposure of children (aged <18 years) to the promotion of unhealthy foods and beverages (and associated brands), including on broadcast media (television and radio), online, through sport and in outdoor settings.
State and Territory governments
Recommendations vary for each state and territory. For key recommendations for each jurisdiction from the Food Policy Index initiative, refer to:
For more information
- Obesity Policy Coalition and Deakin University. Tipping the Scales 2017
- Deakin University: Food Policy Index Australia Report 2017
- Deakin University: Food Policy Index Australia Progress Update 2019
- Deakin University: Assessing Cost-Effectiveness of Obesity Prevention Policies in Australia (ACE-Obesity Policy) 2018
- Sacks G, Looi E, Cameron A, Backholer K, Strugnell C et al. Population-level strategies to support healthy weight: an Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute for Queensland Health, 2019.
- Swinburn BA, Kraak VI, Allender S, et al. (2019) The Global Syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change: The Lancet Commission report. The Lancet 2019;393(10173):791-846
- Reeve B, Thow AM, Baker P, et al. (2020) The role of Australian local governments in creating a healthy food environment: an analysis of policy documents from six Sydney local governments. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2020;44:137-144
- Riesenberg D, Blake MR, Boelsen‐Robinson T, Peeters A, Cameron AJ. (2020) Policies influencing the provision of healthy food and drinks in local government‐owned sport and recreation facilities in Victoria, Australia. Australian New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2020;44(3):240-4
|Indicator Assessment Criteria|
Actions taken by Australian governments in relation to the recommended policies from the 2017 Food Policy Index
Implemented substantive action in relation to all or most components of the recommendation
Implemented action to some components and/or taken some steps towards implementation of recommendation
Taken no substantive action in relation to recommendations and/or made no or very limited progress in the area