Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Launch of the National Health and Medical Research Council Dietary Guidelines

Location: Parliament House, Canberra


Thank you Alan (Pettigrew, Chief Executive Officer, Office of NHMRC) for your introduction.

  • My Ministerial colleague, Senator Patterson
  • Professor Colin Binns (Co-Chair NHMRC Dietary Guidelines Working Party)
  • Dr Katrine Baghurst (Co-Chair NHMRC Dietary Guidelines Working Party)
  • Ladies and gentlemen

I’m extremely pleased to be here today to jointly launch, with Senator Patterson, these two, revised sets of dietary guidelines.

The title is a bit of a mouthful, but as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents, including Infant Feeding Guidelines for Health Workers are of particular interest to me.

A healthy balanced eating pattern is crucial for infants and children to ensure appropriate growth and development to avoid long-term health problems.

Children have some special needs which is why specific guidelines were developed for 0-18 year olds.

Right from the start, as the new Minister for Youth Affairs and the first ever Minister for Children, I was concerned about the evidence of some areas where health is worsening among Australian children.

One of these, obesity, is directly related to diet and nutrition.

Being overweight or obese is now one of the most prevalent, chronic childhood health problems in Australia, with around one in five children classified as being obese.

One of the immediate results of this increase is that we are already beginning to see in type 2 diabetes in Australian adolescents.

There are obviously serious longer – term physical outcomes associated with this and if these trends continue, we will have a big problem on our hands down the track.

We need to know more about why our children are overweight.

One problem is that some families simply don’t know enough about what foods are essential for a healthy, balanced diet and should be eaten each day, compared to the kinds of food that should only be eaten occasionally.

The guidelines and the resources that will go with them, will really help parents choose good, nutritious foods and encourage healthy habits and lifestyles in their children that will last a lifetime.

We also know that children today have a much more sedentary lifestyle than most of us had.

They are definitely spending more time watching TV or using the playstation than in the playground.

The latest statistics show that among 5 to 12 year-olds, 40 per cent watch two or more hours of TV, and 15 per cent play computer games for an hour or more, each day.

Of course, other factors influence these trends. Parents worry more about traffic and ‘stranger danger’. They are more nervous about sending their children out to play and as a result, children spend much more time indoors.

Another concern is that only about 60% of children aged
5-14 years participate in organised sport or physical activity, and that girls are less likely to participate in sport or physical activity than boys.

For these reasons, the guidelines include recommendations on achieving good growth and development and balancing physical activity with healthy food.

Issues for Indigenous children are the same, but also different.

Compared with other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to suffer much greater ill-health, especially nutrition-related chronic disease.

And with 40 per cent of the Indigenous population aged less than 15 years old, we need to be concerned about their future health and wellbeing.

I am really pleased to see that the revised guidelines contain a section that relates specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Together these guidelines and the associated resources will be a valuable and up-to-date addition for family libraries, and will be gratefully received by medical and nutrition professionals both here and overseas.

We know that the early years of life are critical in establishing food attitudes and habits.

If children learn healthy eating habits early in life, they are much more likely to eat nutritional food for most of their lives.

The consultation paper that I launched in February this year about developing and National Agenda for Early Childhood, identifies early child and maternal health as one of the three priority areas.

We can make the greatest gains for our children in the early years of life, and I know Senator Patterson agrees with me on this.

Consultation participants have agreed wholeheartedly that it is an area where we should be focusing our attention and I am pleased to see that the Infant Feeding Guidelines include an extension of the recommended period for exclusive breastfeeding of infants – where this is possible.

Participants in the consultations have spoken a great deal about the importance of supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding for as long as possible because of the nutritional and bonding benefits to be gained for both the baby and the mother.

We will continue to work closely in the coming months with the Department of Health and Ageing and other key stakeholders on these issues.

Congratulations to the National Health and Medical Research Council and to everyone involved.