26 November 2007

The impact of climate change on health and the link between socio-economic status and food choices will be some of the topics discussed by the world’s leading public health nutritionists meeting in Brisbane this week.

The University of Queensland is hosting the Australia Public Health Nutrition Academic Collaboration (APHNAC) conference (November 29-30) which will examine the imperatives driving change in public health nutrition, including the obesity epidemic, and explore the responses required by public health nutrition in relation to changing political, socio-economic and environmental priorities, including climate change.

APHNAC Chair, Associate Professor John Coveney, said the conference would highlight key issues that affect how the way food policy is developed and food choices are made.

“Papers and presentations will focus on issues such as the impact of socio-economic factors, climate and environmental change — including Australia’s prolonged drought — and the influence of urban development on health,” he said.

“We’ll also discuss how these issues are changing the role and direction of public health nutritionists.”

Conference speakers are among leading experts in public health nutrition, including UQ’s Professor Geoff Lawrence, Professor Tim Lang from London’s City University, Dr Jane Dixon from the Australian National University and Liz de Chastel, National Policy Manager for the Planning Institute of Australia.

This conference is sponsored and supported by Queensland Health, Dietitians’ Association of Australia and the Public Health Association of Australia. It will be held at UQ’s Emmanuel College, St Lucia on November 29-30.

Conference paper abstracts
For more information on any of these papers or to talk to the authors, please contact Vanessa Mannix Coppard (UQ) on 042 420 7771 or Marlene McKendry (UQ) on 07 3346 4713 or 0401 996 847.

Time scarcity and dietary practices

Lisa Schubert and Megan Jennaway
School of Population Health, The University of Queensland

While the prominence of "convenience" as a food choice ideology has received some attention in the nutrition behaviour literature, the implications of social changes, particularly those affecting workforce participation of women for food provisioning in households with varying resource margins has been little researched. The purpose of the study described here is to explore the way that households where the available time for household labour is limited or constrained manage food provisioning tasks, and the implications this has for dietary practices. Household food strategies and everyday dietary practices were examined in a group of city dwelling, Australian family households where primary food provisioners had a range of experiences with combining paid employment and domestic labour.

An ethnographic style approach to data collection offers a micro-level qualitative socio-cultural analysis of food provisioners rarely seen in nutrition behaviour literature, and provides the opportunity to examine:

• The extent and form(s) of food provisioning outsourcing;
• Individual households’ rationale for adoption or rejection of strategies widely promoted across nutrition education and food consumer literature;
• Core discourses that food provisioners drew on in resisting the construction of their outsourcing strategies as individual moral failure; and
• Adoption of a range of behaviours compatible with a trend towards a ‘rationalisation of household food provisioning’.

Limited or constrained time available for food provisioning alone is likely to be a poor predictor of diet quality. However, this study has highlighted the value of considering household resources as one important dimension when considering a households ability to adequately fulfil the tasks associated with food provisioning, and ultimately to achieve a well-fed family.

Family’s eating behaviour during adolescence associated with overweight in young adults; a longitudinal study

Siavash Babajafari , Geoff Marks , Abdullah A. Mamun 2 , Michael J. O’Callaghan 3
1. PhD candidate, School of Population Health, The University of Queensland 2. PhD, School of Population Health, The University of Queensland
3. MD, Mater Children’s Hospital, The University of Queensland

Aim: To assess the association of selected social aspects of family eating behaviour including frequencies of family eating together, going out to eat, getting take away foods, and maternal attitudes towards the family eating together at adolescence with Body Mass Index (BMI) and overweight/obesity of the young adults.
Method: Data used were from the Mater-University Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) 1981 to 1983 cohort, Brisbane, Australia. Information on family food choices and other covariates was collected by self reported questionnaires from eligible mothers at 14 years follow-up (FU). Height and weight of 2,629 young adults were measured at 21 years FU. BMI was categorized to normal and overweight/obese according to WHO categories for adults.

Result: The prevalence of overweight (including obesity) was 34.5% in males and 33.7% in females at 21 years FU. Offspring of mothers who reported that eating meal with family is “not really important” and the families going out to eat frequently were in greater risk to have high BMI and become overweight by age 21 years. In the age and sex adjusted model, the odds of being overweight for offspring of mothers who reported that family go out to eat “once a week” compared with those who reported they go out to eat “several times a year/ rarely or never” was 1.44 (95% confidence interval; 1.10, 1.90). This association remained robust after adjusting for potential confounders. There was no association between frequency of family eating together and getting take away foods at adolescence with overweight status of young adults.
Conclusion: Findings of this study suggests that attitude toward family meal and decreasing in the frequency of going out to eat are potentially important in reducing the chance of being overweight later in life. The mechanisms and implications of these need exploration, including exploring the benefits of fostering family meals and encouraging young Australians to eating more frequent meals in their family context.

Climate Change and Food Provision in Australia: Assessment and Implications

Geoffrey Lawrence, Professor of Sociology and Head, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland

It is now recognised that, during the past 200 years, activities by human societies have had a major impact on the atmosphere of the planet. Greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to global warming and global warming has, in turn, altered temperature and rainfall patterns. From sober academic assessments such as the recent study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) to Al Gore’s more accessible documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006), there is a shared view that climate change will impact upon virtually all ecosystems with some positive, but many negative, consequences. In Australia, for example, it is predicted that coral reefs, wetlands, savannas and desert landscapes will be affected, with biodiversity loss being one of the key concerns. In agriculture, there will be increased heat stress on animals, reduced pasture productivity, increased soil erosion, reduced soil moisture, and a higher incidence of floods and droughts. This has the potential to alter the way agriculture – and natural resource management, more generally – is practiced in Australia.

This paper presents a brief overview of global climate change before focusing upon the likely impacts upon Australia, and Australian farming. Rather than dwell on bio-physical change, the paper examines broader socio-political settings, and cultural attitudes, that might inhibit the ability of farmers to respond, in a positive manner, to climate change. It concludes that – under the mantle of climate change - both future food provision, and sustainable development, will be jeopardised by the continued reliance upon "productivist" systems of agriculture. Some alternatives to the productivist mode of food provision are assessed in the context of climate change.

A 'Cinderella public health dimension': the socio-cultural determinants of a taste for healthy food

Jane Dixon, Research Fellow, Centre of Epidemiology and Population Health
Australian National University. Jane.dixon@anu.edu.au

Evidence suggests that lower socio-economic status (SES) groups living in Australian cities have access to affordable nutritious food supplies, although this may be changing as the drought pushes up prices of fruit and vegetables. In the main, availability and accessibility are not barriers to healthy eating. However, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data show that less advantaged groups consume fewer fruits and vegetables than higher SES groups; which begs the question as to the inferior acceptability of these particular foods for lower SES groups. When food was scarce and cheap calories were a prerequisite for labour force participation and children's growth, the consumption of energy dense and nutritionally inferior foods made economic and cultural sense. Raising the matter of class-based preferences for nutritionally inferior foods runs a risk of being tagged an elitist or nutrition terrorist. This paper begins with Lang and Rayner's provocation that culture constitutes public health's 'Cinderella' and outlines several competing explanations for the socio-economic variations in food preferences. I argue that a socio-cultural perspective should become a central feature of the New Nutrition Science project.

Marketing junk food and beverages to children: the ethical imperative.

Kaye Mehta, Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia kaye.mehta@flinders.edu.au

The marketing of unhealthy foods to children is recognised as a probable contributory factor in childhood obesity and subsequently is the subject of political and public debate about who’s responsibility and how best to intervene. This debate has been mostly framed in terms of childhood obesity, however consideration of ethical constitutes another important frame.

Children under the age of 8 years, have not fully developed the cognitive skills to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and consequently do not possess cognitive defence to its effects (Boush D M 1994; John 1999).

At its most basic, food and beverage marketing to children informs about new products, stimulates desire and builds brand loyalty. However secondary effects over and above brand recognition and purchase requests include development of consumerist values, acquisitiveness, dissatisfaction and unhappiness (Kunkel 2001).

Marketing to young children works through their ‘pester power’; encouraging children to manipulate their parents, thereby adding tension and conflict in family relations (Ip, Mehta et al. 2007).

The above factors challenge us to take a broad view of the impact of marketing on children’s health.

The presentations will draw on the literature as well as children’s perceptions about the ethics of marketing.