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Abe Ropitini yarns about : The Launch of the Food Policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health FoodPATH Community Report.

Abe Ropitini is a Māori man of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Maniapoto iwi, with ancestral links to Palawa Mob from Northeastern Tasmania. He has a background in medical anthropology and international development, and has led projects across health, aged care, disability, and Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing.

A passionate and vocal advocate for reimagining and decolonising the health and wellbeing of indigenous people, Abe takes a storytelling approach to centering the legitimacy and importance of culture, kinship, and country in narratives of health and wellbeing. Abe is the Executive Director of Population Health at the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO).

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) in partnership with Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation are thrilled to launch the Food Policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (FoodPATH) Community Report.

The FoodPATH Community Report outlines 10 policy recommendations that provide a pathway for a systems approach to food and nutrition policy action, to prevent increasing rates of diet-related chronic disease and support vibrant, healthy, self-determining Aboriginal Communities in Victoria.

This landmark report is the culmination of Community workshops in 2022 with VACCHO and five of their Member Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) – Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative, Njernda Aboriginal Co-operative, Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-operative, Moogji Aboriginal Council, and Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative.

These workshops took the lead from Aboriginal communities across Victoria in determining the actions needed to improve the food environment for future generations.

Each workshop saw participants develop a clear set of policy actions that increase access to healthier, affordable food and traditional food ways in their Communities.

Improving nutrition outcomes in Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities requires urgent action at both Community and Governments levels.

The FoodPATH policy recommendations are divided into five Community actions and five Government actions:

Community Recommendations | These should be Community-led, but need sustainable funding:

1. ACCO-led self-determined Community nutrition programs (these could include anything from nutrition education, meal preparation, cooking, youth programs- whatever the ACCO identifies is needed).

2. Community gardens to grow and share food among Community members; these could be linked to food packages or cooking programs.

3. Workshops/Yarning circles with Elders to educate Community about traditional foods.

4. Community based parenting programs, incorporating nutrition and cooking healthy meals.

5. ACCO early years programs around healthy eating in pregnancy and early childhood nutrition.

Government Recommendations | These should be implemented by Governments, in consultation with the Community:

1. Ban junk food marketing (in all its forms), including unhealthy sport sponsorship.

2. Mandate nutrition & cooking education in schools.

3. Make the health star food labelling system mandatory across all packaged food.

4.Set limits on the amount of sugar/salt/saturated fat allowed in packaged food.

5. Keep the GST off fresh food.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher says the FoodPATH Community Report provides a strong Aboriginal voice on the action needed to transform the nutrition space in Victoria.

“Before colonisation, traditional food systems supported physical, social and cultural wellbeing and prevented diet-related chronic disease. Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience unacceptable health inequities.”

“Unhealthy diets are a leading contributor of the burden of disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

“Almost 15 years ago, VACCHO launched the Victorian Aboriginal Nutrition and Physical Activity Strategy. Unfortunately, we did not receive the support needed and therefore have not yet seen the results we were hoping for – food insecurity, diet-related chronic disease and the nutrition gap have continued to grow at alarming rates.“

“In order to truly close the nutrition gap and prevent chronic disease, we need governments to take Aboriginal food security and food sovereignty seriously. We need investment into Aboriginal organisations – we need Aboriginal nutrition in Aboriginal hands.”

“This report outlines the bold action required to prevent increasing rates of chronic disease and support vibrant, healthy, self-determining Aboriginal communities in Victoria.”

“I’d like to personally thank the five ACCOs, their staff and Community members, that took part in the FoodPATH Project. Without their generosity and kindness in sharing their knowledge, insights and experiences, this project wouldn’t have been possible.”

VACCHO along with Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation thank VicHealth for their partnership and support in implementing the FoodPATH project.


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