Should Dairy be in Everyone’s Diet?

By Hari Yellina
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The dairy industry’s campaign wish list for the forthcoming federal election includes something that might be deemed strange. Nutrition, notably malnutrition in residential aged care, is a top advocacy concern for Australian Dairy Farmers, alongside jobs and regional viability, as well as sustainability and productivity (ADF). Dairy products have undeniable health benefits, but their importance in the elderly care market has been overlooked. Until now, that is. According to research conducted by the University of Melbourne and Austin Health, eating more dairy products can have a significant influence on preventing fractures and falls among elderly care patients.

The results of the two-year research, which followed the health of over 7200 people from 60 elderly care institutions across Victoria, were published late last year in the British Medical Journal. According to previous research from the trial, many elderly care residents were malnourished and only ate half of the dairy items suggested by the Australian Dietary Guidelines. This is a stunning discovery. The study found that increasing residents’ regular dairy intake from two to 3.5 servings a day resulted in a significant reduction in fractures and falls. Residents who were fed more dairy meals had their muscles in their arms and legs preserved, and their falls were minimised. There was a 33% reduction in fractures overall, with a 46 percent drop in hip fractures and an 11 percent reduction in falls.

Although there is a perception that increasing dairy intake in residential aged care is an expensive approach to manage falls and fractures, there is no evidence to support this claim. The immense benefits are undeniable. Hip fractures among residents in residential aged care are anticipated to cost the national health system $313 million per year, according to information submitted to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. While dairy foods may not be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to boosting the health of the elderly, they can be an important part of the solution.

The Australian government must set obligatory minimum nutritional criteria for elder care service providers in order for this to happen. These guidelines should be based on research and the Australian Dietary Guidelines. It should be applied to the entire elderly care industry. Increasing the amount of dairy consumed in aged care facilities might have numerous cost benefits. Domestic demand would be strengthened, and improved health outcomes would result in lower costs for the aged care and health businesses. It would also send a signal to the rest of the country that the Australian Dietary Guidelines, if followed more closely by a larger number of Australians, may relieve some of the strain on the health-care system.

Dairy foods, such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese, are high in critical nutrients and can help lower the risk of heart, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, and obesity. Despite this, the majority of Australians drink far less than is required to get these results. Governments must do more to improve Australians’ diets and lessen the load on our health-care system. They have a variety of policy tools at their disposal, such as improved regulation to achieve truth in food labelling. Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, politicians have assured us that they are taking steps to protect Australians’ health.

If this is the case, nutrition and lifestyle choices must be addressed as part of their political platform. The ADF’s Federal Election Policy Statement for 2022 includes these nutritional health goals. This declaration outlines a number of plans and efforts aimed at improving the health of people and the environment. Everyone should eat a healthy diet and follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines to give them the best chance to be healthy.


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