Indigenous Environmental Health: Report of the Fifth National Conference 2004
Mt Isa and Gulf Food Supply Project
Chris Toby, Nutrition Promotion Worker, Mount Isa and Gulf Food Supply Project
The Gulf Food Supply Project is located at Mount Isa and the Gulf District (North West Queensland), and focuses on the remote communities in those areas.
Aims and objectivesFood supply to remote Indigenous communities in Queensland is variable in delivery, quality, price and range, affecting the food security of the communities. Poor nutrition can adversely affect the health of community members, who already have a substantially greater burden of disease when compared with total population averages.1 The major causes of excess mortality are heart disease (death rate is estimated to be two times that in the non-Indigenous population), diabetes (17 times as high), pneumonia (10 times) and injury (three times). Together these five conditions account for 56 per cent of the excess deaths.2 Likewise the prevalent of obesity is high, though the positive association between obesity and food insecurity is at present unexplained.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan3 established food access and supply to remote Indigenous communities as a key priority. Improving the food supply is also consistent with the objectives of the Eat Well Queensland program. Development and implementation of a nutrition policy for Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Remote Retail Stores4 has seen the variety and pricing of nutritious foods improve in government run stores, and has been accompanied by an increase in the demand for and consumption of vegetables and fruit, though these are still regarded as suboptimal when compared with population averages.5
Other interventions, such as promotion of healthy food choices, have also positively affected consumption of healthier alternatives. For instance, since the inception of the Green Label System, a point-of-sale food promotion program, there has been an increase in the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables by greater than 500 per cent in some of the Torres Strait communities, and an increase greater than 200 per cent in the sale of healthy commercial foods. Further improvements in the variety, pricing and quality of foods within community stores are predicted to continue the trend of increasing the consumption of healthy foods in the communities.
The newly released FoodNorth: Food for health in north Australia report6 also provides a strong framework to guide future improvement to food supply in remote Indigenous communities. The report summarises some of the key issues, provides examples of interventions and strategies, and identifies leverage points for action. This report stresses the need to establish partnerships, as many of the actions fall outside the mandate of health so there is a need for a coordinated approach to implementing them.
The broad objectives of the Gulf Food Supply Project are to identify the key issues affecting food supply to the communities and, with the cooperation of other key stakeholders, develop and implement strategies to ensure the long-term security of food supply to the remote communities, and ensure promotion of healthy food choices within the communities with particular emphasis on reducing risk factors for chronic disease.
Through the initial needs analysis of food access and supply to the communities, consultation with all stakeholders will ensure all complexities are understood from all perspectives. This should facilitate the next phase of the project, which will involve implementing strategies and programs that are sustainable in the long-term.
Project/programThe main stakeholders are: community store owners/managers, take-away store managers, food wholesalers/suppliers/growers, food transporters, community councils and members, environmental health professionals, Indigenous organisations, Department of Primary Industry, district health staff, Director Primary Health Care, and the Gulf Health Board.
Community participation: In May this year a Food Supply Forum was held in Mount Isa. The aim of the forum was to bring together key stakeholders to develop and implement an action plan for improving access to and increasing consumption of healthy food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, in remote communities in the Mount Isa and Gulf District.
Implementation: At the forum a food supply working party was formed. The working party identified that a situation analysis should be completed in each community. After the situation analysis is completed the community members will be encouraged to form a community-based working group to identify issues relating to food supply in their community. The communities will then develop and implement a community-specific action plan.
Timeframe: We are aiming to implement this program over the next two years.
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Results and evaluationThe evaluation proposed for this project includes:
- a survey of consumers and retailers
- monitoring price, variety and quality of produce
- monitoring orders and sales of fruit and vegetables
- comparison with a control group of retailers in another remote area.
SustainabilityIn order to make this project sustainable, there will need to be:
- development of store policies
- development of practice standards
- an action plan providing a framework towards which future staff and key stakeholders can work, and report against.
Lessons learnedIn conducting such a project it is important to use information and knowledge gained from existing and past projects addressing food supply.
Budget and fundingFunding for this project came from the Board of Management Tropical Public Health Unit.
Contacts, links and resourcesPrimary contacts we have found most useful in this project have included:
- Dympna Leonard - (Dympna Leonard was the project officer who prepared the FoodNorth report).
- FoodNorth - (The FoodNorth project was the initiative of the North Australia Nutrition Group (NANG), the working group for the north Australia health ministers (WA, NT and QLD).
- Healthy Food Access Basket Survey, Nutrition Policy for Remote Retail Stores - This is a survey conducted statewide in Queensland to monitor cost, variety and quality of healthy food in stores throughout Queensland.
- Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy (DATSIP) – Six stores operate in remote aboriginal communities. In 1998, DATSIP and Queensland Health began a joint project to start healthy food initiatives, this led to the development of the Nutrition Policy for Remote Retail Stores.
For further information
Nutrition Promotion Worker,
Mount Isa and Gulf Food Supply Project
PO Box 27,
Mt Isa, Queensland 4825
Phone: 07 4744 4864
Fax: 07 4745 4573
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, May 2000, Australia’s Health 2000, Seventh Biennial Health Report of Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
2. Queensland Health 1996, Health of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Status Report, Health Information Centre.
3. National Public Health Nutrition Strategy, “Eat Well Australia”, March 2000, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan, National Public Health Partnership, Canberra.
4. Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Remote Retail Stores 2001
5. National Food Authority 1995, National Nutrition Survey 1995, National Food Authority, Canberra.
6. FoodNorth: Food for health in north Australia.