Government's response to bad food a failure

DESPITE national efforts to make foods healthier, the foods on Australian shelves continue to be laden with fat, sugar and salt, with few controls, researchers say.

Analysis of the Federal Government's Food and Health Dialogue by Professor Bruce Neal at the George Institute and University of Sydney was published in the Medical Journal of Australia today.

Prof Neal found the "dialogue" - a key government initiative to tackle the nutritional value of food - had "fantastic aims but a very weak implementation plan".

The research found in the four years since the effort began, targets were set for just 11 out of a possible 124 "action areas", and none were delivered.

It also found no evidence that any proposed education programs about food and nutrition were implemented.

Prof Neal said poor diet was not an even bigger cause of ill health than smoking, and while the government did a "stellar job" on tobacco control, it had lagged on food.

"If we are to get on top of health problems like obesity, diabetes and heart disease we have to fully implement the dialogue objectives," he said.

"The huge quantities of salt, sugar and fat added to the food supply by industry are now the main cause of ill health in the country, and the dialogue is the only serious attempt to get on top of this."

"Clearly this is a complex and ongoing process. Some companies have been making a real effort, but if you look at the big picture progress has been depressingly slow," Professor Neal said.

Researchers involved have called for more action to set better targets, with consequences, for improving the nutritional value of food, transparency and for "public health groups" to set the agenda, rather than the food industry, among other recommendations.