3 year priority: More people choosing water and healthy food options
Most Victorians understand the importance of a good diet for their health. But this doesn’t mean we always choose to eat the right foods. Rates of obesity are increasing, fuelled by excessive consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. One in two Victorian adults and one in four Victorian children aged 2–17 years are now overweight or obese.
But eating a healthy, balanced diet is not just down to individual choice and willpower. It is also impacted by factors in our environment such as the increased availability and ease of access to unhealthy foods, the cost of foods like fruit and vegetables, time pressures that make ‘convenience foods’ appealing, and advertising and social norms.
VicHealth aims to make it easier for Victorians to make healthier food choices.
Salt reduction in Victoria
A quarter of Victorians don’t know that too much salt in childhood can lead to a lifetime of health risks. Many parents also don’t realise that a lot of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods like pizzas, breakfast cereals, bread, and packet soups and sauces. The Victorian Salt Reduction Partnership has continued its innovative approach in achieving commitment for action on salt reduction from governments, industry and the public.
As part of the partnership, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation (Victoria) led a salt awareness campaign based on the idea that you can’t trust your tastebuds when it comes to knowing how much salt is in the food you buy.
An industry roundtable held in July 2016 with small-to-medium food businesses focused on reformulation in bread and smallgoods and provided key insights to inform subsequent work.
A Salt Reduction Breakfast was held as part of the World Congress on Public Health in April 2017. Events such as this have helped the Partnership to make key connections as well as showcasing key evidence for what action is needed to reduce salt at a population level, examples of international salt reduction initiatives and food companies that are leading on salt reduction within the food industry.
VicHealth’s water initiative is an integrated program of work with the goal of more Victorians choosing water instead of sugary drinks. Reducing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and increasing intake of water can lead to improved health and a healthier diet overall, as well as reducing tooth decay and saving money.
The H30 Challenge
The H30 social marketing campaign encouraged Victorians to make a simple 30-day pledge to replace every sugary drink they would normally drink with water. In 2017 VicHealth partnered with 18 local councils and provided them with grants of up to $10,000 to promote the challenge in their area and deliver activities that would encourage residents to make the switch to water. When the campaign was evaluated, almost half of residents in the targeted areas recognised H30 Challenge, and almost all of these (97%) could describe at least one of the campaign’s messages.
Partnerships to promote drinking water at sporting events
Since 2015, VicHealth has been in partnership with Etihad Stadium to promote water as the drink of choice through 10 water fountains around the ground so that footy fans and other visitors could get free water refills. The project provides a free and healthy way for fans to rehydrate on game days. Nearly 4800 litres of water were dispensed through the water fountains in 2016.
During the 2017 footy season, AFL clubs Western Bulldogs, Essendon, North Melbourne, Carlton and St Kilda joined us to support the initiative and fans received free refillable water bottles, and messages on stadium screens promoting access to water. Over 1 million AFL fans were potentially exposed to positive health promotion messages encouraging them to drink water across the season, and water fountain usage was strong, with over 6000 users observed across nine of the games as part of the project evaluation.
Evaluation of trials to reduce consumption of unhealthy food and drinks
VicHealth is calling on food retailers to reduce fatty, sugary and salty foods and drinks for sale and increase the amount of fresh, healthy and nutritious food and drinks available for consumers in a bid to tackle Australia’s obesity epidemic.
VicHealth partnered with Deakin University to evaluate three healthy choices trials undertaken in the key public settings of healthcare and sport and recreation facilities. The evaluation aimed to build the business case for the economic and health costs and benefits of implementing healthy food and drink policies in these settings.
The trials, conducted in 2015–16, made small, easy-to-implement changes in retail outlets, vending machines and catering to provide a greater range of healthy food and drink options using the red, green and amber system of classification outlined in the Victorian Government Healthy Choices guidelines.
The evaluation revealed that reducing the availability of unhealthy food and drinks and increasing the availability of healthy items has a positive effect on people’s choices, with little to no effect on revenue.
Healthy choices in sport
As part of VicHealth’s State Sport Program and in partnership with La Trobe University and Vicsport, sporting organisations trialed different initiatives to lead players and club communities towards healthy food and drink choices. Learnings from the projects have been shared through case studies and further evaluation will be released next year.
In a bid to encourage consumers to make water the drink of choice, the VicHealth Regional Sport Program implemented a range of changes in partnership with Regional Sports Assemblies and the VicHealth water initiative grants. They did this by increasing the promotion and supply of water and reducing the availability and supply of sugar-sweetened beverages. In 2016–17 sports clubs and local government-owned sports and recreation facilities took part in the program and tested different approaches to apply in their canteens, such as taking ‘red’ drinks off display. Sales and other data were collected and success stories are now being shared through case studies to support other clubs and facilities wanting to promote healthy choices.
Healthy choices: Eat Well @ IGA
A partnership focusing on exposing supermarket shoppers to a range of in-store healthy eating messages is a pioneering approach to tackling Australia’s obesity problem.
VicHealth has joined with the Champions IGA supermarket chain, the City of Greater Bendigo and Deakin University to spread the ‘eat well’ message. The low-cost, scalable, randomised controlled and multi-component trial is a world first in using marketing into the supermarket setting to help change food purchasing behaviour. Supermarkets account for about two-thirds of Australian food purchases, so they are central to the obesity problem.
The first stage of the research consisted of a series of individual eight-week pilot trials in Bendigo in 2016. About 700 grocery items were given shelf tags that identified them as products achieving a 4.5 or 5 star rating in the Australian Health Star Rating nutrition labelling scheme. Overall, the tags led to a 12 per cent increase in the purchase of 4.5 and 5 star-rated products. A second successful trial featured healthy eating messages in all supermarket trolleys and baskets while a third trial aimed to include more healthy products in end of aisle and island bin displays.
The second phase of the project – funded until 2020 through a National Health and Medical Research Council Partnership project grant – incorporates the successful components of the pilot trials and adds in additional promotion elements including a local letterbox drop, social media, extensive in-store promotion (floor stickers, posters, banners and shelf tag messaging) and staff training. This phase involves 14 supermarkets – seven sites that will see the healthy eating messages implemented in-store and seven control sites that will only implement the interventions after an initial nine month trial period.
The indications from last year’s preliminary work show that shoppers are responsive to the messages. Deakin University’s research on the customer perceptions of the ‘eat well’ message showed that of those who saw the material, 63 per cent said it influenced their purchase and 88 per cent wanted the healthy eating signs left in place.
One in two Victorian adults are overweight or obese, so there is a hope that the bigger supermarkets will follow IGA’s lead in helping to deal with the obesity problem.
“Any supermarket can use this healthy eating information,” says Dr Adrian Cameron (pictured, above right), lead researcher at the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University’s School of Health and Social Development. “Hopefully it will inspire other supermarkets. It’s a competitive sector.” And the trial has shown that the move had a positive impact on the IGA bottom line.
“This is about changing social norms,” Dr Cameron says. “There is definitely a push across Australia towards healthy eating, but people don’t want governments telling them what to do. This approach gives consumers an informed view.”