Issue 4 / 11 February 2013

I WONDER how many people who started 2013 with a resolution to change their lifestyle have stuck with it?

Probably not many, but if the whole community resolved to change maybe many more people would succeed.

With 70% of men and 56% of women in Australia now overweight or obese, we should all support some sensible changes to our eating and exercise patterns.

A new food think tank set up in the US is dedicated to changing the food system in 2013 with 13 resolutions. Taking up the challenge, here’s my list of resolutions that I’d like to see supported in Australia.

1. Grow food in cities: Many schools now have vegetable gardens, some restaurants are growing their own vegies and herbs, inner Sydney verges are blooming with edible produce — leading neighbours to meet as they share tasks (and zucchini), and community gardens are flourishing in areas from Alice Springs to St Kilda. Admittedly under less than ideal conditions, Cuba set an example for sustainable urban agriculture that could serve as a blueprint for other areas of the world. At the same time, they achieved a drop in obesity levels and improved statistics for non-communicable diseases. Give it a go, even if it’s just growing beans in pots on the balcony.

2. Reject unhealthy food: Like author Michael Pollan, I think we should avoid eating anything that our grandparents wouldn’t recognise as food. Let’s go even further and avoid any packaged food with more than five ingredients (I’ll make an exception for quality muesli).

3. Cook at home more: This means giving men, women and children over the age of 10 years responsibility for producing the evening and weekend meals. Sharing the tasks reduces the burden.

4. Eat at the table: About half of Australians eat their evening meal in front of the TV and in many homes snacks have replaced meals. The casualty is vegetables. Few people snack on peas or spinach. Sharing a meal at the table with the family benefits small children’s language skills and helps adolescents’ physical and emotional health.

5. Focus on vegetables: Most Australian children and the majority of adults fail to eat the recommended five serves of vegetables a day. A serve is small — ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw — but it’s hard to achieve unless you include vegies in at least two meals. Perhaps follow the example of Turkey where breakfast includes a pile of tomatoes and crunchy cucumber. Or at least serve a salad at lunch and pass on most fast foods. A pickled onion or tomato sauce on a burger doesn’t constitute a serve.

6. Prevent waste: A staggering half of the world’s food goes to waste. In developing countries, waste occurs mainly due to poor infrastructure. In countries like Australia, it’s due to poor shopping and cooking skills and a general throw-away attitude. The website at Do Something! claims that the average family throws out $1036 of edible food each year — enough to cover average household electricity bills for 6 months. Check the fridge and pantry before shopping, and either avoid producing leftovers or be clever enough to use them the next day.

7. Support farmers: Australian farmers are expected to work long hours and sell their produce at low prices so processors and supermarkets can make a mint while selling us trolley loads of cheap food. Buy from farmers markets where possible. It helps us respect food.

8. Fix the broken food system: With the majority of adults and a quarter of children overweight or obese, and millions needing medication for hypertension, our food system is obviously broken. Tinkering at the edges won’t do: we must encourage governments to stand up to companies and organisations who try to ambush food and health policies. Let’s start by demanding restrictions on advertisements for junk foods when children make up a large part of the television or internet audience. That might help cut the 42% of kids’ and 35% of adults’ kilojoule intake that currently derives from junk foods and drinks.

Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM is a leading Australian nutritionist.

Posted 11 February 2013

2 thoughts on “Rosemary Stanton: Food challenge

  1. Michael Gliksman says:

    There’s much good advice here on how society could act to help prevent obesity.

  2. George Kiroff says:

    I would endorse all that Rosemary has said with a couple of refinements. Instead of simply labelling food with the total energy it should be as a proportion of daily requirement, perhaps with a small human figure proportionately coloured in. Most people don’t know how much is too much.
    Rather than banning advertising, consider who advertises food and how. Only corporates advertise because only corporates produce food and beverage on an industrial scale. I would encourage government to adopt a levy on the advertising and promotion budget of all companies engaged in production of food and drink. This could be of the order of 200% of expenditure. This does not ban advertising but does provide substantial revenue that can be deployed to promote the sort of ideas Rosemary is proposing. Furthermore corporates do not need to incur this expense if they do not promote their product.

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