According to a new report, Inequalities in overweight and obesity and the social determinants of health, by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) the nation is fat and getting fatter.

In 2017–18, around 2 in 3 (67%) Australians aged 18 and over, and 1 in 4 (25%) children and adolescents aged 5–17, were overweight or obese. So, what is the Federal Government doing about the health crisis? Other than collecting data, not a lot it would seem.

Thankfully private enterprise has found a simple solution. The Fruit and Vegetable consortium is a coalition of Australia’s leading health professionals, researchers and horticulture industry groups. They are calling on governments, growers, manufacturers, retailers, health insurers to support long-term dietary behavioural change.

They want to inspire Australians to eat more vegetables to live a healthier life. Despite countless individual attempts to encourage Australians to eat more vegetables, just seven per cent of Australian adults, and only five per cent of children, are eating the recommended daily intake of vegetables. The consortium believes that,

  • Every $1 invested in a behaviour change program to increase vegetable consumption results in a $10 return on investment.
  • If Australians ate 10 per cent extra vegetables every day (less than ¼ of a serve), there would be a $100 million reduction in health expenditure per annum.
  • Australians eating an extra half a serve of vegetables per day would conservatively generate an incremental increase in returns to Aussie growers and supply chain partners of $634 million per annum, which is shared by all parties along the food supply chain.
  • Increasing vegetable consumption will lead to improved health and well-being outcomes that drive reductions in mental and physical health issues, obesity and other illnesses, which will generate as much as $1 billion economic value after 11 years to Australian taxpayers and Governments at all levels.
  • Every new job created in the Australian food industry supports an additional job in the regional economy. The business case demonstrates that if we can in increase vegetable consumption by half a serve per day, we would conservatively generate an increase in industry returns of $634 million per annum.

There is no doubt that increased vegetable consumption is in the national interest as Australia is now the 5th most obese country in the world. All jurisdictions should make subsidies available for organisations like FVC to fight this fat epidemic as the eating of fatty foods has no doubt increased due to stay at home restrictions during COVID-19.   

The average Australian is now eating around 13 kilograms fewer vegetables per year than 20 years ago. FVC Chair and Nutrition Australia CEO Lucinda Hancock encourages all Australians to eat more fruits, vegetables and nuts. She believes that increased awareness about eating good food benefits both an individual’s mental and physical health.

Australians must try to eat well and reduce their risk of chronic health conditions linked to diets high in saturated fats, sodium and sugars. People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of having chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke), some cancers, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and musculoskeletal conditions.

A possible solution would be to raise a tax to help pay for a national marketing campaign about eating more healthy foods. A vegetable levy and charge were first introduced on 1 March 1996 and could be increased by 0.5 per cent to incorporate a new fat tax.

Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited and Plant Health Australia (PHA) are responsible for the expenditure of the current 0.5 per cent vegetable levy but there is no marketing component to that money for growers. In 2017-18, the Department of Agriculture disbursed $839.8 million in levies, charges and Commonwealth matched payments to 18 levy recipient bodies. Currently vegetable growers in that tax program pay over $17 million in research and development fees.

AUSVEG, as the peak industry body for vegetable growers, is a member of the Fruit & Vegetable Consortium, as it is important that growers and industry work with health professionals, researchers, government and other organisations that possess the same goals on programs that will meaningfully change behaviours to increase consumption of vegetables.

Growers and industry are deeply committed to increasing vegetable consumption among Australians of all ages and are keen to work alongside the food and health industries and governments at all levels to improve the health and wellbeing of Australian men, women and children.

The health benefits of increasing vegetable consumption are well-documented, but the rates of consumption are still unacceptably low – we can work together to pool our research, knowledge and passion to remedy this.

The Fruit & Vegetable Consortium’s members consist of Nutrition Australia, AUSVEG, CSIRO, the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Health and Wellbeing Queensland, Melbourne Market and VicHealth. The AIHW report was funded by the federal Department of Health.