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What is SIGNAL
Terms of Reference
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Priority Work Areas
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What is SIGNAL

The Strategic Inter-Governmental Nutrition Alliance (SIGNAL) is a sub committee of the National Public Health Partnership, established to coordinate action to improve the nutritional health of Australians.

SIGNAL is made up of representatives or nominees of:

  • the Australian Department of Health and Ageing;
  • all State/Territory Government Health Departments;
  • the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW);
  • Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ);
  • the National Health and Medical Research Council; and
  • the New Zealand Ministry of Health (with observer status).

The committee also includes four independent members with expertise in nutrition and public health.

The primary goal of SIGNAL is to provide strategic direction and coordination of national nutrition priorities.

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What are SIGNAL’s key priority areas?

SIGNAL plays a major role in coordinating the implementation of the national nutrition strategy, ‘Eat Well Australia: a national framework for action in public health nutrition, 2000–2010’, which includes an action plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The strategy focuses on:

  • increasing the consumption of vegetables and fruit
  • reducing overweight and obesity
  • promoting good nutrition for women and children
  • promoting good nutrition for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

These and other initiatives are designed to address the major nutritional challenges within Australia’s National Health Priority Areas including cardiovascular health, diabetes and cancers. (See National Public Health Nutrition Strategy and Priority Work Areas sections for more information.)

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Why a national approach?

SIGNAL is taking a national approach to public health nutrition to ensure greater consistency and better coordination of government policy and strategy development across Australia. SIGNAL seeks to improve effectiveness, reduce duplication and achieve economies of scale in developing government programs, campaigns and educational materials. A more coordinated approach to workforce development, research, monitoring and evaluation is also being pursued.

SIGNAL provides, for the first time at a national level, a government forum for public health nutrition in Australia. SIGNAL can act as a first 'port of call' for industry groups, professional associations, non-government organisations and consumer groups wishing to work cooperatively with government. Effective links can also be established with scientific experts and others with an interest in health, food and nutrition. This includes clinicians, researchers, educators and the media, and all those with a shared goal of advancing public health nutrition in Australia. This national approach is consistent with the vision of the National Public Health Partnership.

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How does SIGNAL work?

As an expert and representative committee established by the National Public Health Partnership, SIGNAL is responsible to that body and through it to the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council.

SIGNAL develops annual work plans identifying priority areas within the broad framework of Eat Well Australia - the national public health nutrition strategy. SIGNAL can also respond to topical public health nutrition issues from a government perspective.

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What are SIGNAL’s roles?

  1. SIGNAL supports action on the goals and objectives of Australia’s National Health Priority Areas.

  2. SIGNAL has a leadership role in building a common approach to public health nutrition across the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, as well as coordinating and supporting national programs.

  3. SIGNAL provides expert advice on public health nutrition issues from a government perspective to the National Public Health Partnership and other government agencies.

  4. SIGNAL promotes better communication. Using its networks, it can be a resource available to health and nutrition professions, industry, and governments for disseminating information about public health nutrition.

  5. SIGNAL can foster partnerships, working with public, non-government and private sectors to advance public health nutrition.
    (See Terms of Reference for more information.)

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What is public health nutrition?

Public health nutrition focuses on issues affecting the whole population rather than the specific dietary needs of individuals. The impact of food production, distribution and consumption on the nutritional status and health of particular population groups is taken into account, together with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours in the broader community.

Nutrition and health

A healthy diet is fundamental to the maintenance of good health and well being. Good nutrition benefits almost every aspect of our health, from birth to old age. Health problems which are linked to poor nutrition, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, place an enormous burden on individuals, families and society as a whole.

Current scientific recommendations for a healthy diet, endorsed by the National Health and Medical Research Council, are set out in the Dietary Guidelines for Australians and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. These guidelines underpin SIGNAL’s work.

Australia is fortunate to have a food supply that is one of the safest and most affordable in the world. While many Australians enjoy a varied and healthy diet, there is still considerable room for improvement. For many people, there remains a range of barriers to healthy eating, including a lack of knowledge and skills, and limited access to healthy food.

The most recent National Nutrition Survey (1995) found that many areas of food consumption in Australia are inconsistent with nutrition guidelines. Some diet related problems in the community, such as overweight and obesity, are increasing.

Clearly, improving public health through healthy eating requires a long term and coordinated response.

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Authorised by: Principal Program Advisor, National Public Health Partnership
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Last Updated: 1 July, 2005