Obesity rates in Australia are among the highest in the world. One in four of our children are overweight or obese. Last year the ABC ran a series called Magda’s Big National Health Check, and it highlighted this issue. It featured Mansfield, a marvellous little town in my community of Indi, as a town that was doing something about this issue. Mansfield is part of the NHMRC funded RESPOND project, a project that’s being conducted by Deakin University in conjunction with local communities across north-east Victoria. Put simply, RESPOND is a shared community led approach to support children to be healthy by upskilling community members to come up with local solutions to having a healthy diet.

As a baseline, a range of health related data was collected by Deakin University in 2019 from 190 local students across years 2, 4 and 6, giving specific insight into the health and wellbeing of our Mansfield children. Two key findings from that baseline data were that 21 per cent of boys and 24 per cent of girls lived with overweight or obesity, and only 11 per cent of the boys and 12 per cent of the girls met daily vegetable intake requirements. Deakin University then worked with Mansfield District Hospital’s health promotion team and the Mansfield community to answer the question: what helps and what discourages our children to eat healthily and be physically active? The community came together and brainstormed action ideas that would see Mansfield become a healthier place to live.

Mansfield District Hospital put their money where their mouth was, and they funded a project coordinator from their very cash-strapped health promotion budget. I want to underscore that, because, for any local health service, to find money for health promotion, unfortunately, is extremely difficult. They saw this as a way that ultimately they could do something for their community.

Here’s a taste of what the Mansfield community are doing. Firstly, there’s the Mansfield Fresh Food Drive. Volunteers collect excess locally grown produce, and then local families come and access it for free, eliminating a major barrier to vegetable consumption for families: cost. Secondly, they designed a program called Active Footpaths, a series of stickers installed on residential footpaths across the township that encourage passers-by to stop and complete a range of different exercises. You can imagine how much fun the kids are having doing this and encouraging adults to do it at the same time. They set up a Soup for Schools program. The food technology class at the local secondary college got involved, and they prepare soup each week during term 3 and deliver it to one of the local primary schools to serve to the students for lunch. The children not only eat the soup but receive recipe cards and are encouraged to recreate the meal at home with their families, thus pursuing lifelong learning not only for them but for their mothers and fathers and sometimes their grandparents who may be at home.

The list goes on. In fact, Mansfield has delivered a total of 21 initiatives—this is all coming from a small town—specific to the needs of its own community since this program began. Mansfield District Hospital has learnt that, when a local health service works hand-in-hand with the community in the design and implementation of change, their health promotion efforts are vastly more successful. It’s classic bottom-up.

I’m so proud of Mansfield, and I want to congratulate some key people who’ve made this happen and are continuing to make it happen: Lucy Marks, integrated health promotion coordinator; Melanie Green, director of operations; Mansfield RESPOND volunteers; the CEO of Mansfield District Hospital and leader of Mansfield health, Cameron Butler; and the board of Mansfield health. We can’t forget these people, because they’re volunteers, pushing forward for this as well.

I want to acknowledge the work of Professor Steven Allender and his team from Deakin University. Thank you for partnering with the community of Mansfield in my electorate. You’re really making a difference. You’re translating evidence into practice. This is what we’ve got to do in rural and regional Australia. It’s no good to continue to think that we have worse health outcomes than anyone else. We need to focus on what we’re doing really well, and Mansfield is an exemplar of that.

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