Address by Professor Warwick Anderson AM
Chief Executive Officer, National Health and Medical Research Council
Monday 18 February 2013
Office of the NHMRC, Canberra ACT
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Today, NHMRC launches its Australian Dietary Guidelines. These guidelines provide the scientific advice for healthier Australian diets.
The guidelines are an update of the 2003 guidelines and have been long in the revision.
NHMRC has commissioned a careful and detailed analysis of around 55,000 new research publications that have appeared since the last version of the guidelines a decade ago.
Each of these 55,000 publications were been analysed for the strength of the evidence in them and we have rated them as excellent, good, satisfactory or poor, in accord with NHMRC protocols.
An expert committee carefully considered how strong this evidence was overall for conclusions to be incorporated into the guidelines, in accord with international best practice and NHMRC’s protocols.
We had an independent methodology expert review all this, to check whether the processes has been undertaken accurately, consistently and free from bias.
We have also obtained high quality modelling, so that the key nutrients that we know we need to include in our diet could be turned into advice of which foods together make up healthy diets.
As always for NHMRC, we undertook extensive consultation a number of times, recognising the high level of community, scientific and industry interest in these guidelines. All submissions were carefully considered.
A full description of the methodology can be found in the Guidelines document itself.
The evidence has just got stronger and stronger over the last decade about what is healthy and what is not. In a sense, there are no real surprises in the guidelines, but that we can be surer and surer of the advice.
In short, the guidelines are:
- To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious foods to meet your needs.
By the way, we will have additional help on our website and for doctors and dieticians about what this means for different ages of people.
- Enjoy a wide range of nutritious foods from these five food groups
- Plenty of vegetables
- Grains, such as cereals, breads, rice and pasta, preferably wholegrain
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu
- Milk, yoghurt and cheese products (mostly reduced fat so to keep within daily kilojoule range)
And drink plenty of water.
- Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol .
- You know what these foods that are high in saturated fat are! And if you don’t, it’s on the label!
- And it’s the added salt and added sugars that need to be limited.
- NHMRC has additional guidelines on alcohol in our Australian Alcohol Guidelines for low risk drinking.
- Encourage, support and promote breast feeding for babies
- And, care for your food; prepare and store it safely.
I would like to make a couple of extra points.
The first is that these guidelines are primarily meant for health professionals, our GPs, dieticians and others who provide professional advice to patients and clients.
The dietary guidelines provide advice mainly for healthy Australians. People already suffering from ill health need specialised advice through their health practitioners
There will be easier to digest (pardon the pun) pamphlets and guides shortly to back this up on the “Eat for Health” website, accessible from the Department of Health and the NHMRC’s home pages.
The second point is that the challenges in preparing dietary guidelines in the 21st century are twofold – how to get enough of the nutrients we need for a healthy life, without eating too much of what makes us overweight – enough of what’s good for us without eating too many kilojoules.
Here, the modelling has helped us in developing the guidelines. So for example, we can eat as many leafy vegetables as we like without risk to eating too many kilojoules, but other foods which are healthy in themselves, such as full fat milk or cheese, also may be high in their kilojoules and tip us over our daily requirements if we eat too much of them.
The guidelines are aimed at getting the balance right.
Obesity is a major health and economic challenge for Australia
Too many of us are eating too much, especially of those foods which we should limit, that we know we should eat less of. Because we know that obesity is one of Australia’s biggest health challenges.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show that 42.5% of men and 30.9% of women are overweight and 25.2% and 23.4% are fully obese1.
That is, fully a quarter of us Australian adults are obese, let alone overweight. The looming health problems for individuals and the costs for the health system are worrying.
NHMRC will shortly release guidelines for the clinical management of obesity but, like so much else, prevention is better.
The revised Australian Dietary Guidelines do not mandate what you should and should not eat of course. We recognise that Australians are very diverse in the 21st century. We come from a wide range of backgrounds and we eat a very wide range of foods. And while most of us have access to healthy foods, some don’t through geography or because of cost.
Infant Feeding Guidelines
I am also launching today, NHMRC’s revised Infant Feeding Guidelines. These have been developed in tandem with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
As in previous versions, these advise parents that breast feeding is best for their babies for around the first six months and preferably continued until 12 months of age as solid foods are being introduced to your baby.
The guidelines also provide advice on things such as giving kids other fluids, the transition to solid foods and some of those things that parents often have to grapple with such as colic, first teeth and diarrhoea.
Of course, we know that breast feeding is sometimes not possible for some women, and the guidelines contain information for them too. But all of us need to provide as much practical and emotional support as possible to help women breast feed their babies.
I want to emphasise again that the guidelines are based on the available research evidence, interpreted as scientifically as possible, and developed in consultation with the many interested parties.
In any scientific field, there will be individual reports and papers whose results show conclusions opposite of those of these or the previous guidelines. That is the way of science, evidence accumulates and we argue about conclusions!
However, it is not reasonable for some groups to advocate that a single research paper immediately renders incorrect conclusions based on, perhaps, hundreds of other papers; in other words to cherry pick.
We consulted very widely during the development of these dietary guidelines and listened to many voices and points of view and carefully considered every submission during the public consultation.
Because food is so important to us as individuals and such an important part of Australia’s economic life, there are many, many views and interests about this topic. NHMRC’s aim is to base our advice on the evidence in its totality, even though this sometimes upsets some groups with particular views or commercial interests.
Many of my friends point out how confusing dietary advice is. Its hard to know what’s best to eat and what to eat less of, because we are being bombarded almost daily with conflicting advice. These NHMRC guidelines are, I am confident, the most reliable source of balanced, scientific advice now available for Australians.
I want to thank the many people involved in the development of these guidelines - my staff led by Cathy Connor, and particularly the expert advisers. These are too many to mention but are acknowledged in the Guidelines book itself, but I want to particularly thank the eleven members of the Dietary Guidelines Working Committee chaired by Dr Amanda Lee.
It’s great to live in Australia – we have such a wide range of healthy food grown by our farming sector. I hope that these guidelines help people to look after their health by making good choices in eating what our farmers produce for us and is provided through our shops.