Updated January 29, 2020 12:43:19
The town of Hamilton, in Victoria's south-west, has been grappling with a problem.
In 2014, more than 20 per cent of adults in the Southern Grampians local government area were categorised as being obese, and almost 54 per cent were overweight.
The rate of children who were overweight or obese in Hamilton was more than 35 per cent.
Janette Lowe, executive officer at the Southern Grampians Glenelg Partnership, said something had to be done.
"We got about 160 people together [and] we shared that data [about the children], which created a sense of urgency," she said.
Their idea was simple: to "make the healthy choice the easy choice".
Hamilton residents put forward 400 suggestions, ranging from the development of a food co-op, to produce swaps, to taking measures to encourage breastfeeding.
One of the programs that has been put into action allows parents to drop their children 800 metres from school so they can walk the distance.
Hamilton North Primary School set up the drop-off zone in 2018.
Before the drop-off zone was set up, the Manson children Willow, 7, and Harley, 11 didn't walk to school.
They are both now enthusiastic walkers and have taken up sport outside of school.
Harley said the activity had unexpected benefits he used to stay up at night and found it hard to sleep, but now he feels tired at the end of the day.
"It's helping me with how I'm going in my sleeping habits," he said.
Teachers said students at the school were more alert in class.
"Their focus is a lot better, we find that often we take brain breaks with the kids so we get them outside moving for five to 10 minutes so that they can sit and refocus again it works really well," teacher Renee Riley said.
Statistics show the intervention in Hamilton is working in the first two years since the programs were implemented in 2015, the obesity rate in children went down by 4 per cent.
It's a similar story for the adults.
Obesity rates in adults in the Southern Grampians Region dropped by almost 2 per cent between 2014 and 2017, and overweight rates have dropped by almost 4 per cent.
Another project that has reaped rewards in Hamilton is an overhaul of snacks on sale at the local hospital.
"We typically served the old tuckshop-style food of party pies, sausage rolls, potato cakes, fried fish, chips, big muffins, chocolate muffins," John Headley, food services manager at the Western District Health Service, said.
Now, Mr Headley said offerings were "low fat, low sugar and low salt".
"So some really healthy salads [and] a big increase in vegetable intake," he said.
He said the overhaul of the drinks fridge to remove sugary beverages, which began in 2015, was a "big change".
"We basically sell water only," he said.
"Sales was an interesting aspect of this project, we were prepared for maybe a slight decrease.
"What we found was a huge increase in sales for the first three months of around 30 per cent and [we're still] at a 10 per cent increase overall."
Hamilton isn't the only community making a change.
In Tasmania, a program that delivers education to people who might live in food deserts where access to affordable food is scarce uses a food truck.
Emma Rowell works for the state's Child Health Association on a program called Family Food Patch.
"We can take [the truck] it into community centres, do pop-up events and take the food samples to the people and show them how it's made," Ms Rowell said.
Kellyanne Williams, one of the students who has attended Ms Rowell's classes, said it wasn't always easy to access fresh food.
"The struggle in some communities is that the choice isn't as good as what you'd expect at a supermarket so they charge phenomenal prices because they know you can't get to a big supermarket, so it's cheaper to just do fish and chips sometimes for kids," she said.
Ms Rowell said lots of her recipes used frozen and tinned ingredients, such as pea fritters, made using frozen peas.
"It's really about changing that mindset that it's really expensive to eat healthily," Ms Rowell said.
"It's actually really not, but its about trying new things."
Professor Steve Allender from Deakin from the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University helps communities around the world come up with obesity solutions, and has been involved in the effort in Hamilton.
He said the most effective programs were community-led.
"The critical thing, the magic thing that's created the change for those communities is engagement with those communities in developing their own solutions," he said.
Ms Lowe said it was clear obesity was not an individual issue.
"This is the responsibility of our community and our society because we've all seen the changes over the past 30 to 40 years in how we eat and are physically active," she said.
"It's so wrong to think this is just an individual responsibility, this is a responsibility of our community and our society.
"In our community, it's a lot easier to make an unhealthy choice than a healthy choice."
First posted January 29, 2020 05:58:12
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