Blame game useless

The Latrobe City Council’s healthy communities manager wants to see local planning policy include support for healthy food outlets.

It comes amid criticism of the number of take-away outlets in the Valley and recent oral health statistics, which place Latrobe in a worse position than Victoria overall for fruit and vegetable intake and soft-drink consumption.

Latrobe City manager of healthy communities Regina Kalb said council was currently reviewing its Municipal Strategic Statement – which sets out guidelines for land use and planning – and she hoped to see health priorities included.

“Unless we have some policy that says ‘Latrobe City Council wants to support healthy food outlets’, we’ve got no hope when someone puts in a planning permit application (for a fast food outlet) because there’s no legal basis to deny them,” Ms Kalb said.

“The state planning guide doesn’t actually have a health and wellbeing component in it. They’ve just reviewed that as well and we contributed to Latrobe City’s submission to that.”

Last week council voted to approve a planning permit application by McDonald’s, to build a second restaurant in Traralgon.

The move drew an objection from Latrobe Community Health Service and sparked much public debate about an individual’s responsibility to resist fast food, versus reducing the amount of outlets in the region.

Ms Kalb and the health service’s position is clear: blaming individuals does not solve the problem.

“After approximately 20 years of focusing on individual behaviour, poor health statistics have continued to increase,” Ms Kalb said.

“We really need to look at our broader environmental prompts as well, focusing on individuals alone is just not going to cut it.”

The latest Dental Health Services Victoria statistics reveal 53 per cent of Latrobe residents do not eat enough fruit and vegetables, as compared with 51 per cent across Victoria.

Research conducted through the Healthy Together Latrobe initiative in October – a partnership between council and the health service – found there were 79 take-away outlets in the Latrobe Valley and only four green grocers, excluding supermarkets.

“We’re just not eating enough vegetables and part of the reason is a lack of availability,” Latrobe Community Health Service food system research officer Julia McCartan said.

“The density of fast food outlets is increasing.

“It’s not because people have lost control of their own personal choices, it’s the change in environment. You can see the trend.”

Ms McCartan said, conversely, businesses stocked the food that turned a profit, and if demand for fruit and vegetables increased, so would healthier food options.

“No one local government area has got this right. It’s a very complex space,” she said.

The oral health statistics found 19 per cent of people in Latrobe consumed soft drink every day. Statewide, the rate is 12 per cent.

“It’s readily available, so it’s a very easy choice, but it doesn’t have any nutrients in it,” Ms McCartan said.

“Our best advice is to choose water or milk as a drink.”

It is estimated a regular 600ml soft drink contains 16 teaspoons of sugar.

Ms Kalb said more than 50 per cent of the Latrobe population was either overweight or obese.

“While the stats are doom and gloom, the approach we want to take is to get people enthusiastic about eating well.”

The Healthy Together Latrobe Initiative is running a variety of program in schools and workplaces to help improve the region’s health.

To get involved, phone Alistair Edgar (workplaces) on 5128 5694, or Krysten Forte (schools) on 5128 6517.