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Aussie obesity

New dietary recommendations draw mixed reaction from experts

By RJ Whitehead , 18-Feb-2013
Last updated on 18-Feb-2013 at 11:22 GMT

One of Australia’s leading nutrition bodies has given its resounding approval to the release of the Federal Government’s new Australian Dietary Guidelines, although not all food experts have followed suit with the plaudits.

The National Health and Medical Research Council today released its updated its guidelines with the aim of advising consumers about the types and amounts of the food they need to maintain a healthy diet and reduce the risk of lifestyle-related disease.

The exercise is extremely important for the nation, where close to two-thirds of adults and a clear quarter of children are either overweight or obese. Finding ways for Australians to cut back on fatty, salty and sugary foods to achieve healthy weight has been a real priority of late for lawmakers and health groups.

Key recommendations

The new guidelines are based on a substantial quantity of peer-reviewed scientific research — in excess of 55,000 articles. The document calls on Australians to “drink plenty of water”, eat a wide variety of nutritious foods each day from key groups including vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, fish and low-fat dairy products. It also calls on Australians to engage in at least 60 minutes of exercise a day.

Claire Hewat, chief executive of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), said that the guidelines are needed to help consumers cut through the maze of inaccurate information on food and nutrition.

The Guidelines drive home how crucial nutrition is to the health and wellbeing of Australians,” she remarked.

There will always be some people who will say the guidelines aren’t perfect, but the reality is they are now much more up-to-date than what we had.” The last guidelines were released in 2003 and are well past their used-by date, according to Hewat. 

However, Professor Peter Clifton of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, was not quite as optimistic. “As far as I can see, very little has really changed since the 2003 guidelines,” he told the Conversation academic forum following the release. 

Clifton disagreed with the current document’s call to consume more dairy, calling this approach “overstated”, argued that drinking plenty of water was unnecessary, and suggested that its  recommendation for men to eat six portions of grain foods was “too high”.

Environmental impact

Dr Gary Sacks, of Deakin University, was likewise unimpressed, calling into question the sustainability of its recommendations. “The… guidelines do not adequately consider the environmental sustainability of the food supply chain. In fact, environmental sustainability is almost completely sidelined, with a discussion of the topic included only as an appendix to the main document.”

Sacks argued that sustainability should have been incorporated throughout the document, citing the “clear link” between over-consumption, environmental stability and obesity.

It is clear that, in putting together the new version of the guidelines, major public health and environmental compromises were made to take into account the profit-seeking interests of the food industry,” he added.

And while the DAA’s Hewat voiced her disappointment at the length of time it has taken to publish the updated guidelines, calling the process “bigger than Ben Hur”, she called on Australians to get behind its recommendations.

What’s important now is to get the messages on food and nutrition from the Guidelines across to people,” she stated.

Have your say: Do the new guidelines go far enough or have we heard it all before? Let us know in the box below.

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