By Mitchell Clarke
The Cardinia shire is one of the state’s unhealthiest “food swamps”, according to new data out of Deakin University.
In a first-of-its-kind study, Deakin tracked Melbourne’s food retail environment over the past decade which found residents in Cardinia now walk or drive past an average of eight to nine takeaway shops to reach just one healthy food outlet.
Study leader Cindy Needham, a PhD candidate in the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin’s Institute for Health Transformation said her research into “food swamps” was the first to examine the density of food outlets between local government areas.
“A food swamp is an area where unhealthy food retail outlets dominate the landscape compared to healthy options, making it challenging for people to maintain healthy diets,” Ms Needham said.
“It’s very challenging to eat a healthy diet when you’re surrounded by unhealthy options, and that is a serious concern if we want to address rapidly increasing overweight and obesity levels.”
The research found Cardinia and Casey were among the areas hardest hit.
“Our data shows those living in growth areas have far fewer healthy options compared to other parts of Melbourne, with the number of fast food and takeaway outlets growing faster than supermarkets in these areas,” she added.
The research broke outlets into individual categories of healthy, less healthy and unhealthy.
Healthy outlets included greengrocers, supermarkets and butchers; less healthy outlets were considered to be bakeries and delis while fast-food chains, takeaway shops and convenience stores were classed in the unhealthy category.
In Cardinia, there is six McDonald’s; four Subway’s; three KFC’s; two Red Rooster’s and one Hungry Jacks restaurant.
“Growth areas have the highest ratio of unhealthy to healthy food outlets, a resident of these suburbs has to walk past about nine unhealthy outlets before they find one healthy outlet,” she said.
“This is compared to six unhealthy outlets to every one healthy outlet in inner Melbourne – what our study shows is that every other type of food outlet decreases in density as you move away from Melbourne’s CBD.”
Globally, it’s estimated half the population will be above a healthy weight by 2030 which has inspired Ms Needham to begin working alongside health promotion foundation VicHealth.
VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said local governments should be empowered to have greater control over their community’s food environments.
“It’s really important that residents in areas like Cardinia and Casey have increased access to fresh, healthy and affordable food,” Mr Demaio said.
“We also need to closely monitor the changing food retail landscape – we cannot sit by as our least advantaged areas are swamped by increasing numbers of unhealthy food outlets.”
Cardinia Shire Council’s Food Circles initiative aims at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and supporting people to increase their knowledge about healthy eating and nutrition.
Cardinia Shire Council was contacted for comment, asked whether they had a limit on how many developments involving fast food outlets could be approved in the shire.