By Helen Vidgen, Queensland University of Technology


Over ninety nutritionists gathered at QUT on May 14 for the Navigating through Nutrition Policy in Australia seminar.  The seminar was prompted by a need to gather the public health nutrition workforce to collectively consider the state of nutrition policy in Australia.  The seminar attracted delegates from all over Australia representing key stakeholders from government, non-government, university and industry.  The event was a collaboration between the Public Health Association of Australia, National Heart Foundation, NAQ and the Dietitians Association of Australia.

The seminar opened with Prof Heather Yeatman from Wollongong University.  She set the context for the day by providing an overview of the history of nutrition policy in Australia and went on to describe a breath of international policies. Heather challenged us in a call to action as professionals and citizen to be agents for change.

This presentation was followed by Christel Leemhuis  from the Commonwealth Department of Health for an update on the state of play.  Australia’s last food and nutrition policy was in 1992.  In 2013 a National Food Plan was launched which referenced the development of a new National Nutrition Policy.  The Department had tendered for a scoping paper for the policy which was completed by Prof Amanda Lee, Dr Rosemary Stanton and Prof Sharon Friel.  This paper which was delivered in 2013 is being re-considered by the new Australian government who have since decided to abandon the National Food Plan.  As the seminar was conducted the morning after the budget, its implications on the status of the plan were unknown.  

Prof Amanda Lee presented on the nexus between evidence and policy.  She cast a critical eye on many of the statements and reports which influence policy.  Her “rubbish in rubbish out” mantra challenged attendants to fully understand evidence, giving examples of national and international efforts to gather evidence to inform policy, practice and investment decisions for better health. 

Barbra Eden of the National Heart Foundation and Annette Byron of the Dietitians Association of Australia both presented on their organisation’s involvement in policy.  Barbara spoke of the NHF history of working upstream in policy impacting on the food supply.  Annette talked about the kaliescope of policies impacting on nutrition and diet related disease.

The seminar took place in a State that has recently had its public health nutrition workforce slashed.  Dr Meg Adam and Dr Helen Vidgen of QUT presented workforce data from their “Measuring Nutrition Work in Queensland” study, Healthworkforce Australia’s “Dietitians in Focus” and Medicare Locals.  Meg and Helen spoke of the need to consider the nutrition workforce beyond the continuum of health care paradigm.

The day ended with a panel discussion and group work regarding future nutrition policy.  Delegates will continue to work together to form a collective view on the way forward beyond the seminar.  The Public Health Association of Australia will lead this process.  Presentations will be available on the association website.

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Photo by Simone Braithwaite