Why increasing healthy eating is important for health and wellbeing

Diets and the food environment have changed markedly over the past 30 years. Many Victorians do not consume enough of the foods and drinks required to keep them healthy (such as vegetables, fruit and wholegrain cereals) and consume too many discretionary foods and drinks high in energy, saturated fat, added sugar, salt or alcohol. This change has coincided with an increase in obesity, and contributed to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Strategic actions

  • Accelerating the implementation of healthy food (and drink) supply policies in all key public settings (including health services, schools and early childhood services, sport and recreation settings, events and workplaces).
  • Implementing initiatives and approaches supporting healthier lifestyles and habits.
  • Investing in collaborative place-based approaches to healthy eating and increasing access to healthy food in communities.

What we want to achieve

  • increase access to healthier food and drinks, and decrease access to discretionary foods and drinks
  • increase capacity to breastfeed, and prepare and consume healthier foods and drinks
  • increase capacity to not consume discretionary food and drinks
  • increase socio-cultural norms reinforcing healthier eating, drinking and breastfeeding
  • decrease sodium, saturated fat and added sugar, and increase fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and dairy/alternatives in processed and ready-to-eat foods
  • increase purchase of healthier food and drinks, and decrease purchase of discretionary food and drinks
  • decrease the quantity of discretionary food and drinks served eating out and at home
  • decrease exposure to marketing of discretionary food and drink and increase exposure to marketing of healthier food and drinks.

Diagram showing integrated approach between health centres, workplaces and recreation facilities and parks.

Learn more about the Healthy Choices Framework

This page includes links to evidence-based guidance to assist partners in the implementation of actions to increase healthy eating across a range of settings.

  • Actions in early childhood settings and schools

    By using a whole of organisation approach that includes staff, students, families and the wider community, early childhood services and schools are ideally placed to improve healthy behaviours which support better health and learning outcomes, as well as help prevent chronic disease in later life. Early childhood services and schools are also workplaces (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    Taking a whole of organisation approach to healthy eating supports children and young people to build healthy habits early in life. Support is available from the Healthy Eating Advisory Service (HEAS) to assist schools and early childhood settings to supply and promote healthier foods and drinks through canteens and food services.  Embedding healthy eating within whole of school programs also supports environmental sustainability and reduces waste.

    The Achievement Program provides guidance and support for education settings to become healthier places for their community. The program is a free initiative that identifies evidence-based actions to create healthier places, provides links to best-practice resources and case studies, and provides Victorian government recognition once applicable standards have been met.

    Evidence-based actions that early childhood services or schools can take to increase healthy and sustainable eating include:

    Support the early childhood food service or school canteen to comply with Victorian government healthy food and drink supply policies and guidelines

    School and early childhood food services can have a significant impact on the foods and drinks that students are exposed to and consume. When consumed daily, the food in school canteens can comprise a third of a student's total daily intake and have a significant influence on their health and nutrition. Increasing healthy options such as fruits and vegetables in schools increases consumption of these foods, while limiting the availability of discretionary options like ice-creams, pies, pastries and crisps reduces consumption. High sugar content soft drinks and confectionary should not be supplied through school canteens and other school food services due to their high sugar content. Supporting early childhood food services and school canteens to comply with Victorian government food and drink supply policies and guidelines helps support lifelong healthy eating habits.

    Integrate formal and informal learning opportunities to encourage healthy eating within the day

    Promote healthy eating beyond what is served though the canteen by ensuring the curriculum guides students to develop healthy eating and food literacy skills. Formal learning opportunities can be complemented through staff role modelling healthy eating and ensuring discretionary food or drinks are not used for classroom rewards.

    Enable environments in schools and early learning facilities that promote healthy eating and oral health

    Plan for buildings, facilities and practices to support healthy eating. For example, 'design out' the deep fryer; provide families with information about how to create healthy lunches and snacks (including minimising packaging and waste); and ensure celebrations and events promote healthy foods and drinks and limit discretionary options.

    Embedding oral health promotion is enabled by the school dental program and supports healthy eating.

  • Actions in local government

    Local government is ideally placed to develop, lead and implement local policies to influence many determinants of health. These policies include actions in areas such as transport, roads, parks, waste, land use, housing and urban planning, recreation and cultural activities and creating safe public places.

    Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, councils are required to protect, improve and promote public health and wellbeing within their municipality and prepare a municipal public health and wellbeing plan (MPHWP) every four years. They have a broad role in health promotion, the provision of health services such as immunisation, early childhood and home and community care services and other services such as libraries. Local councils are also major employers in many communities (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    Evidence-based actions that a local government can take to encourage healthy and sustainable food, and become a healthier place include:

    Lead by example, by supplying and promoting healthier food and drink options for staff and visitors

    Local government is a significant employer and an important interface to the local community. Local government also host numerous public events and community meetings. To drive effective and sustained change towards healthier eating, many councils have embedded Healthy Choices food and drink policy guidelines within contracts for event catering for staff and visitors. For implementation support, visit the Healthy Eating Advisory Service.

    By acting on healthy food and drink provision, local councils can progress to meet the healthy eating benchmark of the Department of Health and Human Services Achievement Program.

    Embed healthy food and drink supply and promotion guidelines within local government facilities, clubs, services and community events

    Many children in Victoria are growing up in communities saturated with the supply and promotion of unhealthy food and drinks. This has a significant impact on dietary consumption, with children consuming up to 40 per cent of their daily intake from discretionary choices like biscuits, cakes, confectionary, ice cream, crisps, pastries, pies and soft drinks. Councils manage a range of community facilities (particularly for sport and recreation) and host large scale community events and festivals. Many Victorian councils have led the way by embedding the Healthy Choices food and drink policy guidelines into council managed sport, recreation and swimming facilities, as well as service provider contracts and leasing agreements with sporting clubs. By using the Healthy Choices guidelines, facility managers can ensure that food and drinks available to staff, players and spectators are healthy, and compliment positive messages about the importance of physical activity for good health.

    The Healthy Eating Advisory Service provides specialist support for organisations who are putting Healthy Choices into practice and can connect local government with lead adopters and case examples that demonstrate the business case for change.

    Implement initiatives and approaches to support healthier lifestyles and habits across the lifespan, particularly in children's early years

    The first 1000 days (the period from conception to two years of age) are critical for establishing nutrition behaviours that maximise lifelong health and reduce the risk of developing obesity. Local councils provide universal maternal and child health, and child care services which can promote evidence-informed pathways for children and families, including skills and structures to support maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, introduction to solids, oral health and childhood nutrition. Enhanced support and planning to engage with vulnerable groups at this critical life stage is beneficial, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those with lower socioeconomic status.

    Create supportive neighbourhoods to increase access to healthy and affordable food (including for vulnerable groups)

    Local councils are uniquely positioned to support local food system change through increasing access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all community groups including vulnerable populations at risk of food insecurity. This can take the form of local planning and council policies, healthy procurement practices, fresh food recovery and emergency food relief, local food production, community gardens, healthy retail in public settings, as well as measures to minimise food waste and packaging. Working with cross sector partners is essential in this process. Actions to increase access to tap water (preferably fluoridated where available) should also be considered.

  • Actions in health and human services

    Health and human services are key players in the Victorian prevention system. The healthcare system encompasses many skilled professionals who are uniquely positioned to encourage and support Victorians to adopt healthy behaviours. Health and human services are also major employers in many communities (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    Hospitals and health services can contribute to improved health and wellbeing of their employees and local community by reinforcing the directions of the Healthy choices: policy guidelines for hospitals and health services across the whole organisation. Support is available from the Healthy Eating Advisory Service to assist hospitals and health services to supply and promote healthier foods and drinks through their retail food outlets, vending machines and catering. Hospitals and health services are also encouraged to consider the benefits of implementing a comprehensive approach to employee health and wellbeing by participating in the Achievement Program.

    Evidence-based actions that a health or human service can take to encourage healthy and sustainable food, and become a healthier place include:

    Lead by example, by supplying and promoting healthier food and drink options for staff and visitors

    As public facilities with a high profile in the community, hospitals and health services play an essential leadership role in helping the health workforce and visitors make healthier dietary choices. A key action to achieve this is implementing the Healthy Choices guidelines across retail outlets, vending and catering. Embedding these guidelines into staff health and wellbeing policies as well as relevant food supply contracts will ensure effective and sustained change. The Healthy Eating Advisory Service can assist hospitals and health services to implement the Healthy Choices guidelines. Other actions include following Department of Health and Human Services guidance for health services to implement preventive health initiatives and implementing policies to promote and support breastfeeding.

    Alfred Health is widely recognised for its leadership in prevention, population health and health promotion. Alfred Health is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services to support other Victorian health services to implement primary and secondary prevention. Alfred Health provides coaching on how organisations can promote healthier environments, create a healthy workforce and embed prevention into clinical interactions.

    Implement evidence-informed healthy lifestyle pathways, programs and services tailored to children, families and at-risk groups

    Health and community services have the means to implement healthy eating programs, as well as embed healthy food provision guidelines to support clients, staff and visitors.  This includes implementing policies to promote and support breastfeeding and providing healthy eating, oral health and breastfeeding promotion and advice in universal child and family health services. Lifestyle modification programs and resources to assist the general public as well as those at higher risk of developing chronic diseases are available and can be promoted.

  • Actions in workplaces

    Workplaces offer unique opportunities to promote health and wellbeing and create healthy working environments for staff in the places they spend the most of their time. Creating a healthy workplace helps staff make healthier choices and improves the culture of the organisation overall. It can be complex but there are areas where a few vital changes can have a major impact, and help staff participate, be well, be more productive, and contribute to the organisation and community.

    The Healthy Workplaces Achievement Program provides guidance and support for workplaces to become healthier places for their employees. It is a voluntary, free initiative that identifies evidence-based actions to create a healthy place, links members to best-practice resources and examples, supported by local experts to support work places on their journey and provides Victorian Government recognition once these standards have been met.

    Evidence-based actions that a workplace can take to encourage healthy and sustainable food, and become a healthier place include:

    Lead by example, by supplying and promoting healthier food and drink options for staff and visitors

    Many workers consume at least half their daily meals and snacks during work hours. There are many opportunities to influence food choices at work through onsite retail outlets and vending machines, and catering provided at meetings and events. Workplaces can contribute to improved health and wellbeing of employees and visitors by reinforcing the directions of the Healthy choices: healthy eating policy and catering guide for workplaces across the whole organisation. Initiating change to relevant food supply contracts will ensure effective and sustained change, and support is available from the Healthy Eating Advisory Service.

    Encourage healthy eating among staff and visitors

    Workplaces are also great settings for providing programs and resources to support healthy eating behaviours amongst staff and visitors. This will complement any changes made to the foods and drinks provided in the workplace. Workplaces can also consider supporting breastfeeding in the workplace by implementing a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Policy.