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Published 21 September 2012 12:48, Updated 24 September 2012 05:48
You know the cliché: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Reading over research reports on Australian attitudes from the 1980s and 1990s written by my predecessor Hugh Mackay, you notice how entrenched certain attitudes and beliefs are. New migrants will take our jobs. Advancements in technology will make us more anti-social. Today’s teenagers are ruder than I was when I was a teenager. And so on.
The research project I direct has been going on for nearly three and a half decades and if you review the report archive, you’ll notice that completely new ideas are often hard to find. But let me share one with you now, about our changing attitude to food.
Early this week, as background research for a presentation about changing attitudes to health and wellbeing, I was reading a report published in 1980 entitled Diet and Health.
“When food is associated with health, it is likely to be in the context of a cure rather than a cause,” it said. “Food is definitely not thought to be the key factor in establishing or maintaining good health. Other factors come well ahead of diet in Australians’ perception of health: stress, heredity and the weather.”
This idea that diet and health aren’t that strongly connected persisted until the 1990s when concern about obesity and obesity-related diseases started to build.
Today if you said that the link between diet and health wasn’t as important as the link between diet and weather you’d be dismissed as a quack. Diet is now considered to be the number one influence on health. “Looking after your health is looking after what you eat and drink,” one woman said in a recent discussion group we conducted. And many of us agree with her.
Indeed today’s consumer associates a raft of illness and health problems with food choices. Not just the obvious ones caused by obesity but other problems such as allergies and intolerances as well as psychological and behavioural problems. I’ve had more than one participant in a group suggest that the rise in autism is caused by diet.
But if food can make us sick, it can also maximise our health. And so we’ve seen an increasing interest in foods that combat everything from serious diseases like cancer to minor or cosmetic problems like split ends.
Anti-cancer foods. Smart food. Beauty foods. Anti-ageing foods. Ancient foods to cure modern diseases. There is no end to this trend of eating our way to perfect health.