Wednesday, 08 Jul 2015

Developing healthy eating habits

Life Education Victoria CEO, Michelle Wood, shares her thoughts around how we can all develop healthier eating habits for healthier and longer lives. 

“As a nation, we’re the heaviest we’ve ever been” is the first sentence, printed on the “About” page of the Livelighter website. The page goes on to say “The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that roughly one in four Australian adults, are obese bringing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer closer - along with a range of other health problems.”

Livelighter conducted the first annual “Shape of Victoria Survey” in April this year and released the results in late June. 1000 Victorians aged 25-49 were asked about their diet and exercise habits and the results are perhaps not unexpected – to quote their media release “unhealthy lifestyle choices appear to have become normal”.

It appears that there are some behaviours that are practised which are less than ideal for optimising health and long lives – no new information there. From this survey, and this admittedly small sample group, some of the issues that were uncovered would not be a surprise to many who read this article – insights such as people do not realise how much they eat in a day; people overeat when stressed or upset; many people believe foods which were once considered treats, are now “everyday” foods; people have a misconception of what a “healthy” diet is, with many feeling they ate well, but in fact they “practised unhealthy behaviours such as”: 1 in 4 eating takeaway foods every second day, 1 in 3 skip breakfast, many “snacked regularly on biscuits and chocolate”, and only 1 in 14 eating the recommended daily amount of vegetables.

And so, this is obviously a significant societal issue of which we are all aware, which has implications for every one of us, no matter how healthy we are ourselves. The very simple fact is, poor dietary behaviours, whether overeating, undereating, high consumption of high calorie fluids or having poor nutritional intake, have health implications; health implications require action, and action costs in a variety of ways - and we all pay… in a variety of ways.

This is very long and complex debate… or is it? Food and fluids are a necessity for life – our bodies cannot function without an appropriate amount of either – this is not new information. People have a variety of relationships with food and fluids, for example some will eagerly anticipate their chocolate for morning tea, others a small hand-full of nuts; some cannot function without their morning coffee or their wine with dinner, others need 2 litres of water every day; some will eat more in a day than is recommended, others will eat nowhere near enough.

Perhaps where our problems lie are with assumptions…assuming that adults know what is actually a healthy, rounded intake for their individual body and life, and that they are able to share that knowledge with children. If there is a lack of specific information given to a person throughout their early lives related to diet and health, why assume that every adult knows how to eat to be individually healthy and well? There are many factors which affect what an individual body needs, including exercise, metabolism and genetics.

So what are our options? We can and should continue to gather information - to conduct surveys and have experts comment, this will give us informed knowledge of facts and possible changes…and we could look at what and how we are teaching our children.

There is a responsibility to ensure every child is given specific facts in a structured, collaborative, repetitive, age-appropriate and informed manner - facts such as how the body actually works; quantities of intake – what is an appropriate meal size, and how much fruit and vegetables should they eat each day?; energy – how it is gained, stored and used; importance of lifestyle and intake. These details as well as the basics, such as “sometimes foods” are pertinent and vital information which they can take into adulthood and which will shape their decisions - this is information that Life Education imparts daily.

Changing habits is challenging – developing habits is a lot easier.

Michelle Wood, CEO Life Education Victoria