Western Australian Cancer Prevention Research Unit (WACPRU), Curtin University

Healthy eating for everyone

In the face of heavily advertised, widely available and inexpensive processed foods, it can be difficult for people to prioritise healthy eating. In particular, those on constrained budgets with low levels of nutrition literacy can perceive unhealthy options as the most cost-effective and satisfying alternatives for them and their families. FOODcents is a community nutrition education program that is designed to provide low-income Western Australians with the knowledge and skills they need to overcome the marketing spin they encounter throughout the supermarket, assisting them to choose nutritious, affordable foods (see www.foodcentsprogram.com.au). FOODcents is delivered by a consortium of NGOs, including Cancer Council WA, Red Cross and Foodbank. During face-to-face FOODcents courses, participants learn how to shop according to the food pyramid, read food labels and use the price-per-kilo method of product selection. Many sessions also include a cooking component to demonstrate how tasty, healthy, inexpensive foods can be quick and easy to prepare.

WACPRU undertook a two year evaluation of FOODcents to assess whether the program was still performing as intended more than 20 years after its introduction. Much has changed in the supermarket environment, making it important to identify areas of program strength and opportunities for future improvement. More than 1000 Western Australians were involved in the evaluation, which included survey, focus group and observation components. The main finding of the evaluation was that course attendance resulted in significant improvements in knowledge, confidence and behaviour. In addition, very high levels of satisfaction with the course were recorded. The qualitative data indicated these outcomes were attributable to accessible and relevant content that is delivered in a friendly, non-intimidating manner. The results were especially promising among Aboriginal participants, with larger improvements found for this group across most of the evaluation outcomes. The evaluation outcomes have been recently published in Public Health Nutrition and Social Science and Medicine.

Which cancer would make you reconsider your alcohol consumption?

Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer, but this inconvenient truth is largely unknown to the drinking public. In collaboration with Cancer Council WA, WACPRU undertook a major study of the kinds of cancer warning messages that could be most effective in convincing drinkers of the alcohol-cancer link and encouraging them to reduce their consumption. More than 4000 adult drinkers across the country participated in online surveys featuring a range of messages designed to alert drinkers to the relationship between alcohol and (i) cancer in general and (ii) specific types of cancer (mouth, throat, breast and bowel). Despite preliminary focus group research indicating that very few drinkers associate cancer with alcohol and many have an aversion to believing this information, the survey results were promising. Once they were exposed to the warning statements, a majority found the information believable, convincing and personally relevant. In addition, they reported lower intentions to drink heavily after exposure to the statements. These results suggest that policy makers should consider mandating warning statements on alcohol products.

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