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Indigenous health experts launch recommendations to tackle diet-related chronic disease

Giovanni Torre -

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation in partnership with Deakin University's Institute for Health Transformation launched the Food Policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (FoodPATH) Community Report on Monday, setting out 10 key recommendations towards for a systems approach to food and nutrition policy action.

The aim of the recommendations is to prevent increasing rates of diet-related chronic disease and support vibrant, healthy, self-determining Aboriginal Communities in Victoria.

The report is the culmination of Community workshops in 2022 with VACCHO and five of their Member Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations: Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative, Njernda Aboriginal Co-operative, Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-operative, Moogji Aboriginal Council, and Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative.

VACCHO said the workshops "aimed to empower Aboriginal communities in Victoria to determine the actions needed to promote healthier food environments", and that each workshop saw participants develop a set of policy actions that enhance food environments and nutrition in their Communities.

The FoodPATH policy recommendations are divided into five Community actions and five government actions to reflect the need for "urgent action" at both community and government levels to improve nutrition outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria:

The Community Recommendations, which should be Community-led, but need sustainable funding, are: Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation-led self-determined Community nutrition programs (these could include anything from nutrition education, meal preparation, cooking, youth programs- whatever the ACCO identifies is needed); Community gardens to grow and share food among Community members; these could be linked to food packages or cooking programs; Workshops/Yarning circles with Elders to educate Community about traditional foods; Community based parenting programs, incorporating nutrition and cooking healthy meals; and ACCO early years programs around healthy eating in pregnancy and early childhood nutrition.

The government recommendations, to be implemented by governments in consultation with the Community, are: Ban junk food marketing (in all its forms), including unhealthy sport sponsorship; Mandate nutrition and cooking education in schools; Make the health star food labelling system mandatory across all packaged food; Set limits on the amount of sugar/salt/saturated fat allowed in packaged food; and Keep the GST off fresh food.

VACCHO chief executive Jill Gallagher said the FoodPATH Community Report provides "a strong Aboriginal voice" on the action needed to transform the nutrition space in Victoria.

"Before colonisation, traditional food systems supported physical, social and cultural wellbeing and prevented diet-related chronic disease. Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience unacceptable health inequities," she said.

"Unhealthy diets are a leading contributor of the burden of disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

"Almost 15 years ago, VACCHO launched the Victorian Aboriginal Nutrition and Physical Activity Strategy. Unfortunately, we did not receive the support needed and therefore have not yet seen the results we were hoping for – food insecurity, diet-related chronic disease and the nutrition gap have continued to grow at alarming rates."

Ms Gallagher said that in order to close the nutrition gap and prevent chronic disease, "we need governments to take Aboriginal nutrition seriously".

"We need investment into Aboriginal organisations – we need Aboriginal nutrition in Aboriginal hands," she said.

"This report outlines the bold action required to prevent increasing rates of chronic disease and support vibrant, healthy, self-determining Aboriginal communities in Victoria.

"I'd like to personally thank the five ACCOs, their staff and Community members, that took part in the FoodPATH Project. Without their generosity and kindness in sharing their knowledge, insights and experiences, this project wouldn't have been possible."

VACCHO and Deakin University's Institute for Health Transformation acknowledged VicHealth for their partnership and support in implementing the FoodPATH project.

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