Food shortfalls

Shortfalls ... the new dietary guidelines.
Shortfalls ... the new dietary guidelines.

There has been a mixed response to the new national dietary guidelines, which were released on Monday.

While generally the industry has welcomed the recommendations, by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), there has been some backlash as well.

Many, including The Dietitian's Association of Australia (DAA) and the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), are pleased the public now have an updated point of reference to help them navigate "the maze of inaccurate information on food and nutrition."

"The Guidelines drive home how crucial nutrition is to the health and wellbeing of Australians – and especially children," said DAA spokeswoman, Claire Hewat.

However, the DAA also say the guidelines are generalised - they caution people to seek individualised advice - and have expressed frustration at long it has taken.

"There will always be some people who will say the Guidelines aren't perfect, but... our last set of guidelines, released in 2003, [were] well past their used-by date.

'We've been disappointed with how long it's taken to get to this point. The process has been bigger than Ben Hur, despite the hard work and commitment of all involved."

Given the collosal commitment, the PHAA feel that the guidelines fall short in several areas. This includes their submission to incorporate sustainable eating practices.

"It is a missed opportunity that this aspect of the advice was not taken more seriously," said Michael Moore, CEO of the PHAA.  "Food, health and the environment form an integrated system.  It is appropriate and imperative to let people know how to eat to protect the future environment as well as their health...

"If we destroy the environment that sustains our food supply we will not be in a position to produce good nutritious food and such advice will become redundant."

The PHAA are also unsatisfied with the breastfeeding guidelines, which have been revised to six months of age, from 4 to 6 months. According to Dr Jennifer James Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Nursing and Midwifery at RMIT University, this change will help to ease the "considerable confusion" on the matter.

But, the PHAA believe more could have been done.

"Breastfeeding advice is based on solid evidence," said Associate Professor Heather Yeatman, President of the PHAA.  "The real challenge is supporting mothers to continue to breast feed.  More than 90 per cent of Australian women start breastfeeding, but rates at 6 months fall far short of NHMRC targets...

"More research is needed into how to support breastfeeding when mum returns home and perhaps back to work. There is also a key role for health workers to strengthen their advocacy of the benefits of breastfeeding."

Bulletproof guidelines were always going to be a challenge. And there is clearly still a way to go in addressing the health and dietary issues in Australia. Poor nutrition is still implicated in more than 56 per cent of all deaths in Australia. Obesity alone is estimated to cost the economy in excess of $58 billion per year.

But, the new guidelines, which push good fat over low fat and pure instead of processed, are a positive and long-awaited step forward.

"The new Australian Dietary Guidelines and Infant Feeding Guidelines must now rank among the world's best and most significant," said Mark Wahlqvist, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Past President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences.

This story Food shortfalls first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.