Calls to improve health access in the bush

  • Woman holding lettuce tray on the farm

The need for suitable, reliable and affordable services that support health for those in rural and remote areas is now more critical than ever, as metro areas feel the pinch of common issues experienced by those in rural areas.

COVID-19 has shone a light on these issues – such as empty supermarket shelves due to supply issues and barriers to accessing health services – which are inequities that were once considered as just part of living in regional Australia.

In a federal election year filled with change and big promises, Dietitians Australia is calling on the government to make food and nutrition a national priority, to help end the health disparity experienced by our nation.

Food and nutrition are not just health issues. Many sectors such as education, transport, agriculture, infrastructure and social services play a role in food access, affordability and food choices.

But alarmingly, it’s now been 30 years since Australia updated its National Nutrition Policy.

Considering how the contents of supermarket shelves have changed since this policy was first established in 1992, it’s clear to see this approach is now well out of date.

Healthy food now costs at least 30 per cent more in rural and remote areas of Australia than in capital cities and, despite having enough food for our population, food insecurity is on the rise.

Statistics show 27,500 Australians die a preventable death each year from eating an unhealthy diet. So it’s clear something needs to be done.

Dietitians Australia, along with other leading health organisations, have long been calling for a National Nutrition Strategy to ensure all Australians have access to affordable and nutritious foods, and to help address diet-related health conditions.

In simple terms, having an updated National Nutrition Strategy means we’ll live in communities where food is accessible, affordable and nutritious, and have the skills to eat for our health and lifestyle. We’ll be able to support our mental health with good food and, in turn, enhance our productivity and wellbeing. As we age, we’ll also be able to live longer in better health and reduce the strain on our aged care sector.

Better yet, this approach will help reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic diseases, some by up to 60 per cent.

As we ask the government to plan for the future, we also recognise nutrition action needs to be taken now to support those in aged care, those experiencing mental illness and Australians living with disability.

There’s a silent, faceless abuser lurking in our aged care homes, known as malnutrition. We’re calling for the government to lead the way in ending malnutrition abuse, through mandating malnutrition screening and supporting aged care homes to receive an annual menu and mealtime quality assessment from an accredited practising dietitian.

When it comes to mental illness and disability, it’s access to care that needs to be addressed in rural and remote Australia. Currently Australians are unable to receive adequate Medicare funding to see their dietitian for support in preventing and treating mental illness, or to help navigate the food preferences of a child with autism, to help them to thrive.

On top of the cost of seeing a dietitian, in regional Australia there is the added cost of travel. Expecting Australians to sacrifice care around food and eating – something we must do every day – is unacceptable.

The government must put the health of all Australians first – and this starts with better access to health services regardless of where we live.

It’s time we had the support needed to eat our way to good health.

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