Action needed to better understand Australian diets

July 29, 2019
Professor Mike Gidley, Senator Bridget McKenzie, Professor Stephen Simpson and Professor Therese Jefferson.

Nutrition science offers huge untapped potential to boost the health and wealth of the nation. But what does the typical Australian diet look like? How can it be improved—from paddock to plate—to target health and wellbeing for all Australians, at all ages? And how can consumers make sense of the blizzard of unreliable and conflicting nutrition advice?

These and other major questions are addressed in Nourishing Australia: a decadal plan for the science of nutrition, developed by the Australian Academy of Science.

The 10-year plan, launched today at Parliament House by the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Bridget McKenzie, outlines four essential areas where the science of nutrition will contribute to enhancing the health of Australians:

  1. social factors that determine dietary choices
  2. nutrition mechanisms underpinning healthy and productive lives
  3. precision and personalised nutrition that account for differences between people
  4. education and research training to ensure that Australians are empowered to make knowledgeable dietary choices.

The plan outlines how these four pillars will generate a greater understanding of why individuals make dietary choices and how we can develop and incorporate new knowledge of nutritional genomics and individualised nutrition therapies. It recognises that Australians are hungry for information about nutrition, foods and dietary patterns and the effects they have on the body. 

Chair of the Academy’s National Committee for Nutrition, Professor Mike Gidley from the University of Queensland, said Australia does not currently have large-scale longitudinal data on food intake, nutrition status and relationships with societal determinants and health outcomes for its population.

“National nutrition surveys are infrequent and irregular, resulting in a lack of current information on the relationship between food intake and health outcomes for Australians,” Professor Gidley said.

“There is an urgent need to utilise new tools and digital technologies to assess the national diet on a population-wide scale,” Professor Gidley said.

“Bringing nutrition data together from a range of new data sources, such as citizen science, national surveys, prospective cohort studies, clinical trials and more, has the potential to provide much richer datasets and will give us a clearer picture of how diet relates to health outcomes over time.

“Indeed, without a strengthened contribution from the social, economic and environmental disciplines to the science of nutrition, traditional approaches will not deliver their potential benefits in translating all this new knowledge into improvements in our health.”

Co-chair of the plan’s Expert Working Group, Professor Stephen Simpson from the University of Sydney, said Australia enjoys a global reputation for its nutrition science, one of many disciplines where we punch above our weight.

“In combination with established strengths in our agrifood industry, medical technology, social sciences and higher education sectors, Australia is entering an era of opportunity to be a regional and global leader in broadening the science of nutrition and linking it to health, social, and economic outcomes for the benefit of all Australians,” said Professor Simpson, who is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

“Nourishing Australia outlines steps that need to be taken over the next ten years to secure our future.”

The Academy acknowledges the financial support from the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Learned Academies Special Projects fund to develop this plan. The plan is aspirational and further consultation is needed prior to implementation.

© 2019 Australian Academy of Science

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