The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is Australia’s national science agency and since its founding in 1926, has contributed a raft of developments and solutions to challenges facing Australia and humanity. With over 50 sites throughout Australia and overseas, CSIRO is a diverse network focused on sustainable scientific innovation relevant to industry and community.
Describe your role?
I am a research scientist in human nutrition at CSIRO
What do you believe are the biggest health challenges in Australia?
The escalating cost of good healthcare and an ageing population means that our healthcare system will be unable to afford to treat people without increasing costs. The taxpayer may have to pay more for healthcare and the government may have to consider how to contain these costs perhaps by reducing public funding in some areas.
What do you believe are the biggest health opportunities in Australia?
Preventing illness and disease through better diet and lifestyle could reduce health costs. Incorporating diet and lifestyle advice and support in routine medical care could help to delay hospitalisation. Increasing health maintenance services in the private and public sector is both a potential for increasing jobs as well as wellbeing. There are many opportunities that are now missed to remind people about the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Screening programs for breast cancer and colon cancer that currently exist could very simply be used to do this at a time where people may be more receptive.
What is the CSIRO doing to improve the health of Australia?
We have a strong commitment through the Preventative Health Flagship and other initiatives. We undertake research on the best approaches to diet and exercise to achieve weight and fat loss and how we can best communicate these approaches to change behaviours. Our research on high protein diets has spawned several very successful books for the public that have sold over one million copies. We have developed a new diagnostic blood test for colorectal cancer, which we hope can pick up the disease very early so that it can be treated. We have bred improved cereal grains such as ‘barley max,’ which contains a type of dietary fibre that may help to maintain bowel health. This grain is available commercially.
Based on your role, knowledge and experience what advice do you have for Australians to improve their health?
Keeping regular track of one’s weight is important as kilos can pile on without realising it. Eat a healthy diet by keeping to regular meals and limit snacks. Eat a lot of vegetables. Exercise each day. Eating less overall, not wasting food but eating good quality food that tastes good and is good for the waist as well as the environment. Having a copy of the CSIRO’s ‘A Total Wellbeing Diet’ in your household can provide some ideas for healthy and delicious recipes.
If you were Prime Minister for a day what would be the top three things you would do to improve the health of Australia?
These are my personal views.
I would restructure health and medical research so that it was mission-directed and better targeted to prevention strategies.
I would legislate that all schools both primary and secondary include mandatory education on nutrition and healthy lifestyle.
I would introduce a hefty tax on non-nutritious foods and subsidise healthy foods for those on low incomes.
What was the most recent global conference/industry event you attended and strongest message you took away?
The last international meeting I attended was in Nairobi to review progress of some of our AusAID funded work on food and nutrition security in Sub-Saharan Africa. What I took away from it was how critical it is not just to have enough food but to have food that provides the many micronutrients that are need for physical and intellectual development. The emergence of a junk food culture in developing countries is a real concern as under nutrition makes way for over nutrition and brings in all the same health issues that we have without adequate resources for treatment or prevention.
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