Presenter: Katherine Lodge
Guest: Dr Christina Pollard
Guest Bio: Dr Christina Pollard is a Sessional Academic at Curtin University’s School of Public Health. Dr Pollard has a particular interest in improving nutrition for population groups who are vulnerable to poor nutrition due to their social, environmental or economic circumstances.
Christina joins us today to talk about whether the two fruit and 5 veg campaign has been a success in light of Australia’s obesity problem.
Health Professional Radio
Katherine Lodge: Thank you for listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m Katherine and for this segment our guest is Dr. Christina Pollard. Christina is a Sessional Academic at Curtin University’s School of Public Health. Dr. Pollard has a particular interest in improving nutrition for population groups who are vulnerable to poor nutrition due to their social, environmental or economic circumstances. Christina joins us today to talk about whether the ‘2 fruit and 5 veggies’ campaign has been a success in Australia in light of our obesity problems. Welcome to our show Christina.
Dr. Christina Pollard: Welcome. Good morning!
K: Hi. So for those of us that are listening and not familiar with the ‘2 fruit and 5 veggies’ campaign. Can you explain it to us please?
P: Yes. When people regularly consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, they’re at a lower risk of diet related diseases so heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. And so for a long time, governments had been interested in promoting healthy eating to the public and promotion of fruits and vegetables is one way that we know there’s a lot of benefits for having a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables and it tends to represent a healthy diet for people. So governments have been promoting fruits and vegetable for quite a while.
K: Yeah, for sure. And I think all of our stores in Australia, we are so familiar with a lot of the health campaigns, such as we all remember growing up with the food pyramid. And then the how we should be getting calcium every day and now we have this. And I think we are bombarded a lot with health messages and it’s hard to people to understand whether they are real nutritional recommendations or whether they are ad campaign sometimes, I think you know some of the messages are getting mixed.
P: Yeah, it’s quite difficult. But one of the things that we found when we did some research prior to developing the ‘2 fruits and 5 veggie’ everyday campaign for government was that people really wanted to know how much of what types of food they should I be eating every day. There was a strong belief among the community that eating more fruits and vegetables and eating a healthy diet was important but really it was how much of what should I be eating. So when we first ran a campaign in Western Australia, we ran 8 more fruit and veggies. And it was aimed at the general public it had recipes and it encouraged people to eat more fruits and veggies. The feedback that we got was “great campaign, really interested in how to do it, and how much should I be eating?” So that’s when we decided to go with the more prescriptive message, so looking at really how many serves of fruit and vegetables should you eat each day, what is the serve, is there a difference between eating a fresh, frozen all those sort of questions that people ask us.
P: And we know from recent research that almost everybody in Western Australia that we surveyed know that they should eat 2 fruits and 5 veg every day. People are really, well generally, are over optimistic about how much they were eating. So it came is a bit of a surprise and in fact anytime we get reminded and we have a look what we’re eating, we tend to think “Oh perhaps I should eat a bit more.”
K: Right, exactly. And I think, I’m glad you mentioned the portions because not everyone knows what a serving is. And if some people hear 5 veg, “What am I doing?” What does that mean exactly? Is that a salad? Things like that. Also like you said if people are eating out or what have you, they’re not completely sure what is in their food and yeah how much they’re actually getting as nutrition and which brings me to my next point. As a nation, we are getting larger as a whole and part of the terms where we can be obese nutritionally starved. Why do you think some of the health messages are heard but not necessarily adapted into the national diet?
P: Well I think obesity is a condition of excess consumption and that’s the food and drink and that includes alcohol and lack of physical activity. So the fact that people can be obese but not have enough nutrients or actually be suffering malnutrition seems to be a weird concept. And it’s because a lot of the food that provides a lot of the energy, the excess energy or energy dense are not nutritious food, so they tend to be eating that are high in fat, savory cakes, crisps that sort of type of food or soft drinks or sugary foods. And people tend to eat those foods a bit more on the run and a little bit more in bigger portions than what they need. Almost everybody in Australia if they followed the dietary guidelines and the recommendations of this dieting guide to healthy eating, fooditive, and maintain a healthy weight, but the catch is most people don’t need those extra foods like the sugary, fatty, energy dense foods. And in fact our advice is to limit or avoid them. What we have in our mindset is they’re a treat or we can have them a little bit every day but because most of us are overweight and I’m talking 67% of adults that is, it applies to most of us that we need to actually watch and limit our alcohol consumption, our soft drinks consumption, whatever it is that personally you have more of, that adds to that daily energy excess and weight gain over the year, that’s the thing that should be looking at. And we’re not saying you have to cut your entirely have to exclude things but if it include more fruits and vegetables and dairy products and lean meat and whole grains, and there’s less room for those other foods. And then if you consciously look at those foods and start to reduce them that’s when you get the results that you’re looking for.
K: Yeah, for sure and I wanted to touch upon a point where you have been doing some work with certain population groups because I think in Australia, we are a little split in our food literacy as well I think there is a certain group of people who are very savvy when it comes to food, they cook really well, they watch all the cooking shows, they know exactly what’s going on, you know what I mean? They shop in farmer’s markets, they do all of that and then you’ve got other groups where they are heard of young children not being able to recognize vegetables, like to be able to know the main basic vegetables as well. We’ve got that huge spectrum of knowledge in Australia. Now I wanted to talk to you about how do you bring a nutritional and health promotion to some of that groups that are more vulnerable and suffer from a poor diet?
P: Yeah. Well there are certainly people in our community who are vulnerable to poor diet because they don’t have enough money or capacity to eat better or to purchase the food and certainly fruits and vegetables and those foods tend to bit cost more per kilos than other foods. However in my work I’ve met plenty of people who are on the low but adequate income, who are fantastic cooks, meal preparers and food planners who actually … they should have their own television show really because they can really show people how to actually meet their nutrition requirements and get what’s needed. The problem is I think obesity is more prevalent in lower socio economic groups, now that maybe in part because adults aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables and nutritious food and they’re not talking the time to prepare this food so the children are growing up with that role modeling happening. Industry is heavily promoting the very types of food that we’re recommending people, eat less salt. So we’re exposed to adds for take away fast-food, soft drinks, and crisps and savory foods all the time. Supermarkets promote them so when you walk in the door at the supermarkets, the big things that are on special are soft drinks. They’re the types of foods that you associate maybe with having fun or they’re cheap and they’re bulky so really what’s being pushed towards us all the time is the very types of foods that we need to avoid. And in terms of cooking skills, that’s quite interesting because in order to eat well, you don’t have to be a master chef however there is a decline in that I think in that whole set of cooking skills, like the planning, preparing, purchasing, and one of the things that dripping away at it is probably this push for convenient fast-food eating on the run. However there are ways to plan ahead. So that you pick up an apple or you’ve got salad veggies in the fridge or meals are quick and easy to put together. So it’s really you’ve got to have the desire and intent it does take a bit of work and you’ve got to plan ahead. And we probably need to try and limit some of this pressure that are pushing us to eat, less nutritious food all the time.
K: Yeah, and I’m glad you mentioned a little bit about those supermarket and restaurant and things because I wanted to talk to you, I know Christina you worked for the Australian government for about 30 years and in that time you would have seen so many changes in our national diet behavior, demographics especially over in WA. Now more than ever, we have so many new cuisines available to us that maybe 30 years we could not get our hands on. Also, what is available on our supermarket shelves compared to say 3 decades ago had probably changed as well. We don’t have so many fish mongers us anymore, we don’t have milking anymore things like that. So I guess what I’m trying to ask you is with all these convenient foods and changes, what are some of the trends that you’ve seen and where to from now?
P: Okay. Well you’re right, when I first started, life was a bit simpler in that there were less foods in the supermarket, less varieties, less food being marketed as healthy but aren’t actually very healthy, more whole foods were promoted, if you walked down the supermarket aisle there was kind of a whole length of it devoted to plain rice and spaghetti. Now most of it’s devoted to the sauces they stick on the spaghetti, they add a lot of fat and salt. So those trends are increasing at the moment there are a few trends that are pushing, one is convenience and so industry is really trying to promote and prepare and add things to food to make them more convenient for people. The other is health so there is a big push from food industry to add vitamins and minerals to food and endorse them with logos and things that make them healthy. What we don’t know it’s actually countering truth to it, if you eat more fruits and vegetables and those plain foods that we’re talking about, your overall diet will be healthier. So it’s almost that we to avoid some of the trends that are being pushed at us. The other big trend at the moment is for organic or natural, that type of thing. And again that’s in some respect to the marketing tool if you look at the word ‘natural’ on a food label it doesn’t actually have a meaning by law. And so the most natural food you can get are the fresh fruits and vegetables and all those things I keep talking about.
P: So really, there are some tips that we give people about how to avoid and walk away through this. And one is if you’re having a packaged food, which we need because minimal processing preserves our foods and can make it more enjoyable. Look for limited ingredients, and that the main ingredient is the food that you really want to eat, so it might be oats or fruits and that the other added ingredients are not too many of these types of food you want to eat less of like sugars or salt or fats. So the rule of thumb is if it’s more than five ingredients of some of these things you’re probably buying what we called ultra-processor food that has some of the value removed when adding fake value in it you like. And the same type of recommendation, the strength of evidence is increasing for the types of diet we’re always been recommending, so that is fruit, vegetables, bread, cereals you know those type of plain foods and plants foods predominantly. So it’s really if we could encourage food industry to really look at getting them to us in a way where it’s likely more convenient and we can add them and prepare them to our meals without adding to much cost then we’d be laughing.
K: Yeah. That is completely correct, I agree with everything that you have to say. And thanks so much for your time today Christina and showing with us some all those great tips toward the end as well. Thanks for your time.
P: You’re very welcome.