3-year priority 2013–16: More people choosing healthy food options and water.

All too often, the healthy choice is not the easiest choice for people to make.

Most people understand the importance of having a healthy diet for themselves and their families. But it is easy to get confused about what a healthy diet is. As a population, there’s a big gap between what we aspire to eat and what we actually do eat.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is not just down to individual choice and willpower. It is influenced by our environment in direct ways – for example, through the availability of healthy food and drinks or the price of staple foods like fruit and vegetables. And it is influenced indirectly, through advertising and other factors such as social norms.

VicHealth has targeted the following areas to make it easier for people to choose healthier options.

Water initiative

Behavioural insights trials

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar in the Australian diet and can lead to weight gain and tooth decay. A person who drinks one 600ml sugary drink each day will consume 23kg of sugar by the end of a year.

As part of the VicHealth Water Initiative, we have partnered with a range of agencies to encourage more Victorians to choose water over sugar-sweetened drinks. A number of behavioural insights trials have been conducted on water supply, accessibility and promotion. Alfred Health, YMCA Victoria and the City of Melbourne have all made healthier drinks available in selected retail outlets. For example, in 2015, the City of Melbourne introduced 68 well-designed and well-located water fountains across the city in areas where people take part in physical activity and recreation.

VicHealth has partnered with Deakin University to evaluate these trials so we can learn from agencies who have been successful in encouraging a switch to water.

In 2016, VicHealth published an action guide for local government (Provision of drinking water guidelines in public areas: A local government action guide) based on research findings and a review of drinking water fountains in public places.

The H30 Challenge

VicHealth’s H30 social marketing campaign encourages Victorians to switch sugary drinks for water for 30 days to feel the positive health benefits. Participants reported reducing their sugar-sweetened beverage consumption during the Challenge and 76 per cent indicated they would be likely to continue in the immediate future.

Sports partnerships to promote drinking more water

Etihad Stadium has partnered with Yarra Valley Water and VicHealth to make free water refills available at the 52,000 seat stadium.

During the 2016 footy season, VicHealth also partnered with four AFL clubs to promote water as the drink of choice and encourage fans to use the free water refills at Etihad Stadium.

In 2015–16 we continued to work closely with State Sporting Associations and Regional Sporting Assemblies to promote healthy food and drink choices, including increased water consumption at sport clubs and sporting venues. Sporting organisations are also trialling new approaches that will make water the drink of choice.

Salt reduction in Victoria

Victorian adults are eating around twice the daily recommended amount of salt (sodium). This places them at risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Almost one in 20 deaths in Victoria can be attributed to high salt intake.

In 2015, VicHealth published its State of Salt report, which has increased awareness about salt intake as a major public health and policy issue in Victoria.

VicHealth and the Heart Foundation Victoria also developed the ‘don’t trust your tastebuds’ social marketing initiative, which raised awareness of the risks of high salt intake and encouraged Victorians to reduce their intake. The Heart Foundation Victoria and VicHealth are working with food industry partners to find solutions to lowering salt levels in foods.

In 2015–16, VicHealth continued to lead the Salt Reduction Strategic Partnership, which works to strengthen health policies and relationships, develop new ways of working with the food industry to reduce the amount of salt in processed food and undertake further research to reduce salt intake in Victoria.

“Reducing salt intake is a global health priority that has gone under the radar for too long. We know what works and how to do it. Through the VicHealth Salt Reduction Partnership, we are working to get community, policy makers and the food industry on board – taking salt out of the food supply and off the table to lower population salt intake. If Victorians reduce their salt intake by 3g per day, we will save around 800 lives each year from heart disease and stroke.”

(VicHealth State of Salt, 2015)

Kilojoule content displays

We congratulate the Victorian Government on the introduction of legislation that requires large food chain outlets and large supermarkets to display kilojoule content of food and drinks on menus, menu boards, price tags and online menus.

Victoria’s Citizens' Jury on Obesity, an initiative of VicHealth held in late 2015, showed significant support for mandatory kilojoule labelling on fast food with around 75 per cent of the jury supporting the concept.

Citizens’ Jury on Obesity

Victoria, like every other state and territory in Australia, has a problem with obesity. We all need to eat, but how can we make it easier for the average person to eat better?

It’s a big, tough question that cuts to the core of our daily decision-making, and it was this confronting query which set the tone for an event unlike any other in the state’s history. Across online discussions and one weekend in October 2015, 100 randomly selected Victorians from all walks of life – including teachers, tradespeople, students and local business owners – met to form a Citizen’s Jury on Obesity.

Everything was on the table: how to mobilise communities and individuals to take action; how to encourage related industries to initiate positive change, and how to create an enabling, blame-free environment that might lead to stronger government action on this front.

At stake was nothing less than the state population’s current and future health. What could be more important?

The Citizen’s Jury was a significant undertaking by VicHealth which took nearly a year to plan, conduct and report on. In the months ahead of the weekend event held in Melbourne, the 100 jurors were asked to consider more than 60 submissions from hospitals, advocacy groups, individual experts, government and not-for-profits. In addition, an online forum allowed the jurors to deliberate for and against proposed solutions such as innovative education campaigns, cutting fresh food costs, and a sugar tax.

VicHealth’s inaugural Leading Thinker, Dr David Halpern – CEO of the UK-based Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – attended the Citizen’s Jury, and in his report, he described it as a highlight of his residency. “Many of those involved in the organisation of the process, myself included, wondered about how realistic it was for jurors to spend 15 hours or more reading and debating the materials in their own time in the run-up to the weekend,” he wrote. “But most jurors spent at least this level of time and commitment, and many spent more.”

Healthy eating

The Citizen’s Jury culminated in the jurors presenting 20 ‘asks’ – the group’s perspective, after considering the evidence, on what needs to be done to address an issue – to a steering group convened by VicHealth, which comprised key government, industry, public health and community decision makers. “The process showed policymakers, retailers and producers that they may be substantially misreading, and perhaps underestimating, Victorians,” wrote Dr Halpern. “Though many of the ‘asks’ would have been familiar to policymakers, a few were relatively novel too, such as easing the rules and practices that restricted local farmers from supplying fresh fruit and veg to local communities if they were in a contract with a major retailer.”

Importantly, the Citizen’s Jury was designed and received as an inclusive space, with all members given a chance to be heard. In October 2016, VicHealth was announced as the winner of the International Association for Public Participation’s Core Values Award in Health for its innovative, community-based approach to the question of how to eat better.

 “I think we will see far more of these deliberative juries in the future,” wrote Dr Halpern. They not only lead to some pretty sensible recommendations, but also get government out from the ‘rock and a hard place’ that they often find themselves with respect to lifestyle issues in policy. In sum, VicHealth – and the citizens of Victoria – did something really amazing in this jury.”

Back to VicHealth Highlights 2015-16