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Home Economics profession in Australia

Home Economics profession in Australia

Abstract

The mission of the Home Economics profession in Australia is to educate, inform, and act as an advocate to government, industry and the community for families and households, so that individuals can make informed choices in order to enhance their everyday living. As the peak professional body for Home Economics professionals in Australia, the Home Economics Institute of Australia Inc. (HEIA) represents the interests of home economists working in education, industry, community services, consumer affairs and family and household management. Our membership-base is currently comprised predominately of home economics teachers in secondary schools, in which nutrition and healthy eating is a key component of their teaching. HEIA appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the development of a National Food Plan (NFP). Food supply issues are of particular interest to the home economics profession, as access to nutritious, safe and affordable food is central to the health and wellbeing of the population. As highlighted in the NFP green paper, the aim of the government is to establish an integrated approach to food-related policies and programs to ensure the Australian population has an adequate supply of nutritious and affordable food, which will ultimately support population health. HEIA’s submission to the NFP green paper is separated into key issues and a number of the points raised capture key questions posed in the green paper (as indicated throughout).

 

INTRODUCTION

HEIA supports the collaborative and transparent approach the government is taking to develop the NFP. There are numerous opportunities for stakeholders to review the government’s proposed approach and provide input.

Aim and objectives

As outlined in the green paper, the proposed aim of the NFP is to ensure Australia has: “A sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply, supporting access to nutritious and affordable food”

Throughout the green paper the link between the food supply and nutritional health is made clear. ‘Nutrition’ is further expanded on in objective 6, which is to:

“Reduce barriers to a safe and nutritious food supply that responds to the evolving preferences and needs of all Australians and supports population health”

HEIA agrees that including nutritional aspects in the aim and objectives of the NFP is essential. The green paper goes someway to cover nutritional issues, as would be expected because nutritional health of the population is such an important outcome in relation to the food supply.

However, the green paper then goes on to note that:“…many of the issues discussed in the diet and nutrition section…and identified throughout the issues paper consultation process, a re likely to be considered in the development of a national nutrition policy”

In addition, the national nutrition policy will be developed to “…identify, priorities, drive and monitor nutrition initiatives”

HEIA does not support this approach and strongly encourages an integrate d approach to policy development. As highlighted in our original submission, HEIA stresses that the NFP must incorporate food and nutrition in one document; rather than separate plans, which represents a fragmented approach. HEIA notes that this stance is supported by submissions to the NFP Issues Paper, including the Public Health Association of Australia. It’s nonsensical for nutrition to be mentioned in the aim and objectives and then ‘ignored’ in all other aspects. An important question to consider is how will government ensure, and know whether, Australian’s have “access to nutritious and affordable food” when the details for this will sit within a separate document with no regard for each other? In addition, the all-important monitoring aspect, which has been capture d in this green paper, may well be lost when it comes to nutrition—as has been the case in the past. HEIA strongly supports the integration of a national nutrition policy with the National Food Plan.

There is an opportunity for the NFP to adequately capture food and nutrition issues and implement a robust monitoring and surveillance program that covers the entire food and nutrition system, which captures a ‘paddock to plate’ approach. Further details on monitoring are outlined below.

Monitoring and review

It is encouraging to see that the green paper has picked up on the need for monitoring, as identified from the submissions to the Issues Paper.

The periodic State of the Food System report, which is flagged in the green paper, will help ensure the plan is kept current and meeting its required purpose. It will be important, however, to specify the reporting timeframes and performance measures.

In addition, HEIA strongly supports reviewing and revising the NFP after a period of time (no more than five years). HEIA assumes that the monitoring aspects will be used to guide the ‘review’ and ‘revision’ of the plan.

Because of the firm links between food and nutrition issues, which is reflected in the proposed aim and objectives of the NFP, HEIA reiterates that nutrition monitoring must be part of the system

. The proposed State of the Food System report should take a structured form, such as that outlined in HEIA’s initial submission on the National Food Plan. This monitoring system contains four elements:

  1. Food supply: Availability of foodstuffs and composition of Australian foods
  2. Food purchasing/acquisition: Expenditure on food, types of food purchases, price and quantities bought; food security
  3. Food and physical activity behaviours: Food and nutrient intakes; physical activity
  4. Nutritional status: Biological measures this monitoring system would capture the various aspects discussed in the green paper, including: providing key information about food policies, pro

grams and regulations and how they help to achieve the government’s proposed outcome and objectives assessing and reporting on issues affecting Australia’s future food security (on a national, community and individual level) consolidating key statistics on the food industry an overview of food production capacity an overview of land use.

The monitoring system requires clear and measurable outcomes, which includes the nutritional health of the population.

Both short and long term performance measures are required, which could be linked to existing COAG or other reporting mechanisms.

The monitoring and surveillance program for the National Food Plan covers the entire food and nutrition system, including nutritional outcomes across the population.

The National Food Plan is reviewed and revised, as appropriate, after a period of time (no greater than five years).

Food security

The Executive Summary of the NFP green paper declares that: “Australia has a strong, safe and stable food system and Australians enjoy high levels of food security”

While Australia may be food secure on a population basis,

Individual level food security is an issue i.e. the equitable distribution of food across the population. While this fact is reflected in the green paper (p5), HEIA considers it misleading to make such a broad statement in the Executive Summary—sometimes this is all that is read and quoted; therefore more detail must be given in summary material about the status of food security in Australia.

The importance of community and individual level food security is adequately reflected in summary documents to the National Food Plan.

Home Economics Education

HEIA notes that the green paper mentions the Australian Government’s continued support for a number of initiatives to reduce the prevalence of nutrition-related chronic diseases in

Australia. HEIA acknowledges that this aspect is not directly related to the food plan; rather is included to demonstrate the commitment of government to increase healthy

lifestyles.

Nonetheless, HEIA is compelled to comment on this area due to the nature of our organization. As the peak body for home economics professionals in Australia, which includes home economics teachers in schools, HEIA is increasingly frustrated that home economics education continues to be overlooked as a strategy for improving and maintaining the health of Australians. Home economics in school s provides equity of access to valuable

food and nutrition education.

The following is an extract from the government’s recently released Australia’s Food and Nutrition 2012 Nutrition education in schools is fundamental in supporting young people to develop sustainable, health-promoting eating behaviours. Reynolds (2006) provides guidance on maximizing teachers’ work in nutrition education:

  • Teaching students about nutritional recommendations is insufficient to bring about behaviour change—it is important for students to explore their eating habits and the implications on their health. Students should feel empowered to follow a healthy lifestyle because it will make them feel good.
  • Teachers must connect with students’ worlds—the types of food they eat, the family environment, sporting interests—and explore the topics relevant to them.
  • Food preparation classes are integral to teaching about food and nutrition and students should be taught to prepare meals that are

cost and time effective, nutritious and tasty. Food preparation should reflect serve size recommendations in the Australian guide to healthy eating, including ‘extra’ foods

Australia has qualified teachers available to engage students in an action-oriented empowerment approach to nutrition education. HEIA draws your attention to the following extract from the paper ‘Home Economics and the Australian Curriculum’ (HEIA 2010):

Home economics education takes an action-oriented, empowerment approach that enables students to build capacity for critical and creative approaches to decision making and problem solving related to fundamental needs and practical concerns of individuals and families, both locally and globally.

. …. Students learn how to make healthy food choices that take into account social, economic and cultural influences. They learn how to use food selection tools and dietary guidelines to critique and design a range of meals and meal plans that support health and minimize food-related health risks. With a focus on, but not exclusive to, adolescence they consider the macro- and micro-nutrients important for development (for example, kilojoules, saturated fat, calcium, folate, omega-3 fatty acids). The importance of food for brain development is also explored.

They design, prepare and present nutritionally balanced, aesthetically appealing and cost-appropriate foods and come to realize that a wide range of practical skills is empowering for sustainable food choices. They develop food preparation skills and techniques based on an understanding of the scientific, sensory and aesthetic properties of foods that enhance the quality of the food. They adapt recipes to maximize the nutritional value and/or cost effectiveness of the recipe, manage resources when choosing and preparing food, and practice food safety and hygiene methods.

Despite the importance of food preparation in educating young people, and despite a 30-page submission to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority regarding the draft shape paper for the Health and Physical Education (HPE) component of the new Australian Curriculum, practical food preparation is still marginalized. In turn this means the marginalization of home economics and the capacity to deliver effective teaching for food and nutrition education.

In the current curriculum climate, home economics does not receive the prominence that it should and in some instances, schools are disregarding it all together. With the impending new national HPE curriculum, a huge opportunity to reform food and nutrition education for all young Australians is likely to be lost.

With support from the government, students from across Australia would benefit from the knowledge and expertise of home economics teachers who are willing to be part of the solution when it comes to the current nutrition-related health problems that are taking hold.

HEIA is despondent that despite our best efforts to gain recognition, home economics education using the current expertise available is overlooked, with preference being given to novelty programs such as the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program and Jaime Oliver’s Ministry of Food. While HEIA is not critical of these programs and their positive outcome per se, it is the fact that the Australian education system has a well-established network of teachers available to integrate food and nutrition education into the curriculum, without having to rely on on-going funding. All that is needed is support to recognize the often overlooked subject area of home economics. The success of these programs should in fact be used to reinforce the need for continued health literacy and food preparation skills in high schools through home economics education.

The government recognizes that home economics education within secondary schools is necessary for the provision of food-related know ledge and skills and is therefore an important contributor to improving health outcomes across the Australian population.

The government acknowledges the vital contribution that home economics teaching can make to the Australian Curriculum, which in turn lends support to the National Food Plan.

Food policy leadership and engagement with stakeholders

HEIA notes the options presented in the NFP green paper in terms of leading the food policy agenda and engaging with stakeholders. HEIA support s the third option i.e. establishing an

Australian Food Council, comprising relevant Australian Government ministers and representatives of agriculture, fisheries and food businesses together with health, community and consumer representatives to consider long-term strategic challenges and opportunities for Australia’s food system. Highest level ministerial engagement with stakeholders would result in a more streamlined and integrated process, rather than having two separate groups.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

HEIA welcomes the development of the NFP and appreciates the opportunity to contribute to its development.

HEIA stresses that nutrition issues must be integrated with the NFP, which includes a comprehensive food and nutrition monitoring and surveillance program. Nutrition must not

sit within a separate policy document—this would represent a fragmented approach to policy development. Food and nutrition issues are so tightly integrated; therefore, the NFP must recognize that nutrition and health outcomes across the population sit at the end stage of the food system and must be part of a single policy document.

HEIA further highlights the importance of home economics education in secondary schools to improve health outcomes across the population. HEIA raises this in response to the list of government initiatives provided in the green paper that are aimed at reducing the prevalence of nutrition-related chronic diseases in Australia.

The government fails to recognize the importance of home economics studies in secondary schools, which provides a platform for food and nutrition education. Funding continues to be handed out to niche programs, whereas home economics education offers a sustainable option for the government to tackle the growing prevalence of inadequate and ‘unhealthy ’food intake, which in turn can lead to non-communicable diseases. This subject area is being marginalized as part of the current work on the new Australian Curriculum and HEIA urges the government to act to ensure home economics education in Australian schools is not lost, which will encourage healthy lifestyles and contribute to the success of a National Food Plan.

The monitoring and surveillance program for the National Food Plan covers the entire food and nutrition system, including nutrition outcomes across the population.

The National Food Plan is reviewed and revised, as

appropriate, after a period of time (no greater than five years).

The importance of community and individual level food security is adequately reflected in summary documents to the National Food Plan.

The government recognizes that home economics education within secondary schools is necessary for the provision of food-related know ledge and skills and is therefore an important contributor to improving health outcomes across the Australian population.

The government acknowledges the vital contribution that home economics teaching can make to the Australian Curriculum, which in turn lends support to the National Food Plan.

REFERENCES

 

AIHW 2012, Australia’s Food & Nutrition 2012 . Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.

HEIA 2010, Position paper: Home Economics and the Australian Curriculum, Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia 17(3), pp. 2-13.

Reynolds, J 2006, School-based nutrition education – making it work, Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia

13, pp. 12-18.

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