Increasing healthy eating

What we want to achieve between 2020 and 2025

  • Lower intakes of energy-dense, nutrient poor (discretionary) foods and drinks
  • Increased consumption of vegetables

A focus on healthy eating

The food and drink we consume plays an important role in our health and wellbeing. A healthy diet helps to maintain a healthy weight, prevent chronic disease and protect against premature death. 

During the early years of life, good nutrition is essential for normal growth and physical and cognitive development. It also establishes good eating patterns that can be carried into adulthood. 

Diet-related chronic conditions are among the leading causes of death and disability in Australia. Much of the chronic disease due to poor nutrition is associated with the excess intake of ‘discretionary’ foods and drinks that are high in energy, saturated fat, added sugars and/or salt, and insufficient intakes of more nutritious foods. 

Our food choices are influenced by our food environment. This includes the shops, sports venues and workplaces we frequent, as well as schools and facilities we attend and the media we are exposed to. Too often these settings are dominated by unhealthy foods and drinks which makes healthy choices difficult. 

We know people are more likely to choose to eat healthier food when they are empowered to make these choices. If we want to make meaningful and sustained changes in the way we eat, we must improve our food environments to make it easier for Canberrans to make healthier choices.

Key population health measures 

The percentage of people living in the healthy weight range is the main population health measure for the increasing healthy eating priority area. 

In the ACT in 2021, 36.1% of adults and 59.6% of children reported having a healthy body weight. This proportion has decreased since 2011-12 when 44.0% of adults and 61.6% of children reported a healthy weight.

Other relevant population health measures reported on HealthStats in the ACT include: 

  • meets vegetable guidelines 
  • meets fruit guidelines 
  • fast food consumption
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): obese, overweight and underweight.

Further information about healthy weight including an update on trends in the ACT can be found in the latest Chief Health Officer reporting on healthy weight

This priority area aligns with the Health domain of the Wellbeing Framework, in particular the overall health and healthy lifestyle indicators. This priority area also aligns with the:

Activities delivered under the first action plan

Fresh Tastes program 

Fresh Tastes is a free, voluntary ACT Government program for primary schools to help make healthy food and drinks a bigger part of everyday life for students. Participating schools received intensive support for 3 years to take a whole-school, strengths-based approach to create a healthier food and drink culture.

From 2014-2021, 94 primary schools participated in Fresh Tastes, reaching 42,000 students.

The Fresh Tastes: Interim Project Monitoring Report showed that:

  • 93% of participating schools said they had embedded a healthy food and drink culture
  • 92% of schools had seen a positive change in attitudes towards healthy food and drinks
  • 89% had noticed a change in the demand for healthy food and drinks.

A comprehensive final evaluation has been undertaken to assess Fresh Tastes’ overall impact and outcomes and will be available in 2023.

Healthier Choices Canberra, Refill Canberra and Gamechangers

Healthier Choices Canberra is working with Canberra businesses and sporting clubs to increase the visibility and appeal of healthier foods with a focus on vegetables, fruit and water. 

By the end of 2022, 74 Canberran businesses participating in Healthier Choices Canberra had made a fruit ‘n’ veg pledge to increase the availability and appeal of fruit, vegetables and water to the community.

9 state sporting organisations and 18 junior sporting clubs had made a healthier sports pledge. 

Refill Canberra enables Canberrans to refill reusable water bottles with tap water for free at participating businesses. In 2022, 140 businesses were participating in Refill Canberra. 

In February 2022, the Gamechangers initiative was launched to support local junior sport clubs to build positive sponsorship relationships with Canberra businesses that share their values for healthy and happy kids in sport. In 2022, there were 7 successful matches between businesses and junior sports clubs through Gamechangers. 

Healthy food and drink choice policies 

The ACT Public Service Healthy Food and Drink Choices Policy is in place to increase the availability of healthy food and drink choices for people in the workplace. A literature review to identify best practice workplace approaches to promote physical health and wellbeing was completed in 2022. A review of the current policy is underway.

An audit of Canberra Health Services vending machines and food services to consumers (cafeteria and privately run cafes) was completed in 2022. The audit assessed compliance against the healthy food and drink policies.

ACT Public School Food and Drink Policy

The ACT Public School Food and Drink Policy promotes a consistent, whole school approach to the provision and sale of healthy food and drinks in ACT public schools and aligns with the National Healthy School Canteen Guidelines.

Nutrition Australia ACT were funded between 2015 and 2021 to provide policy implementation support to schools, via the ACT Nutrition Support Service. Compliance rates consistently improved during this time. The combined proportion of GREEN items on menus had increased from 31% in 2015 to 57% in 2020 and RED items has decreased from 18% to 1%.

Marketing of food and drink in the ACT

In 2016, the ACT Government developed a healthy food and drink marketing policy to limit the advertising of unhealthy food on public buses in Canberra. This was in response to community concerns and evidence around the influence of marketing on food and drink choices. The policy has been extended to the light rail. 

In 2020, work progressed to further integrate this policy into ACT Government procurement and contractual arrangements with transport marketing and advertising agencies. 

Addressing food security 

The Community Services Directorate continues to provide timely support to individuals and families experiencing disadvantage and financial stress with funding provided to OzHarvest and St Vincent de Paul Society to deliver the Food Assistance Program. 

The Food Assistance Program provides access to quality food (frozen, chilled, packaged and fresh) in the ACT, by:

  • acting as a conduit between organisations who support those in need and the industry (restaurants, catering businesses, famers, food chains, fruit markets)
  • providing flexible arrangements in scale, time and location of service delivery to meet changing needs of very small, small and medium size community organisations
  • providing healthier food choices.

The Bush Tucker program

The Bush Tucker program aims to support Ngunnawal people to eat healthy food by removing barriers to collecting native resources and foods on ACT government managed lands and providing opportunities to establish Ngunnawal bush tucker gardens. 

Initial bush tucker garden sites have been established at Mulligans Flat Sanctuary and the Botanic Gardens and further development is underway. 

Meals at School trial

In 2020, the ACT Government committed $1.462m to a pilot program to deliver meals in 5 ACT public schools. The pilot will provide breakfast and lunch 3 days per week to students from preschool to year 10. Meals will be aligned with the ACT Schools Food and Drink Policy. 

This trial seeks to address the impact on learning caused by lack of access to nutrition which can be caused by poverty and disadvantage. Implementation will begin in 2023.

Installing drinking fountains

To improve the availability and promotion of free drinking water in public places, sports facilities and food outlets, the ACT Government continues to and plan to install drinking fountains across the city to expand access to water stations. 

Between 2020 and 2022, drinking fountains were delivered to sportsgrounds at Bonner, Wanniassa, Kambah and Amaroo. Upgrades to shops including installation of drinking fountains is either planned or underway at Chifley, Melba and Campbell. Upgrades including drinking fountains for 6 additional local shops are in the feasibility and design phase. 

Community Garden Grants program 

The Community Garden Grants program supports the development or expansion of community gardens across Canberra that meet one or more of the following priorities:

  • Benefit to the wider community, encourage social inclusion and/or promote healthy living.
  • Show principles of the circular economy, zero emissions and/or carbon sequestration.
  • Have a high level of community support, including volunteers and sponsorship.

Between 2020 and 2023, 29 projects received more than $121,000 in funding through the program. 

Programs funded through the Healthy Canberra Grants

The Healthy Canberra Grants funded a range of community programs aimed at increasing healthy eating between 2020 and 2022: 

  • The Woden School was funded $59,160 for the Stronger Us program which is a whole school community program primarily focused on creating an environment that provides healthy nutrition and physical activity opportunities.
  • Nutrition Australia ACT was funded $147,900 for the Nourishing Little Minds program which combines early childhood literacy with experiential learning to enrich children’s awareness, interest and enjoyment of healthy foods in a safe and familiar environment. 
  • Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services (MARSS) Australia Inc was funded $82,368 for the Healthy Eating and Active Living program, a nutrition education and physical activity program for migrants and refugees from various culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 
  • OzHarvest was funded $225,000 for the Nutrition Education Skills Training 2.0 program which aims to improve the food literacy and dietary behaviours of vulnerable adults.
  • Ngunnawal Primary School was funded $7,000 for The Deadly Lunchbox program which aims to bring together parents and carers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to inspire and encourage them to prepare healthy food for their children.
  • Australian National University was funded $175,446 for the Kitchen Garden Program that aims to build social connectedness through students coming together to grow, cook and share food, as well as provide volunteering opportunities in the community.
  • Wanniassa School was funded $14,400 for the Learning Support Unity Healthy Cooking Skills Program that aims to enhance students’ social connectedness as well as their understanding of healthy lifestyles with a focus on healthy eating.

Over $1.5 million was awarded across 9 community organisations through the Healthy Canberra Grants: Focus on Supporting Healthy and Active Living for Children and Young People round announced in 2022. Recipients included programs that aim to increase healthy eating such as the MARSS Australia Inc program to promote nutrition and physical activity amongst young people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in the ACT.

A total of $380K was awarded across 10 community organisations through the Healthy Canberra Grants: Reconnection within Priority Populations round announced in 2022. Recipients included programs such as Communities@Work’s Growing Healthy Communities program that aims to improve community access to activities that raise awareness of the importance of healthy eating, being physically active and living socially connected lives. 

Page last updated on: 8 Dec 2023