Walk into the food store at Titjijkala, a small Indigenous community about 120 kilometres southeast of Alice Springs, and you’ll find bright yellow labels with the word “Mai Palya” hanging in front of many of the items.

The shelf labels, which mean “good tucker”, are illustrated with an Aboriginal painting, and immediately draw attention to the healthiest food in the store.The Mai Palya shelf labels are just one of many success stories highlighted in a new resource package aimed at improving nutrition in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation, the “Talking About Shelf Labels” flipchart and manual, developed by the Menzies School of Health Research, outlines how good shelf labels can contribute to a healthier diet.

It’s aimed at remote nutritionists and health workers when working with local people and store staff. The labels clearly show the food and drink that are the healthiest choices. They can be stickers, posters, or images printed directly onto price tags.

The labels are more likely to be noticed, understood and used when local people are involved with their design, and clear and simple messages are used. One community on the Western coast of Cape York Peninsula, for example, used  “thumbs up” posters and signs in front of fruit, vegetables, grains, cereals and fresh lean meat. On Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait, a simple “Healthy tick” sign was designed by the local children.Improving the diet of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is a major priority for reducing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

A poor quality diet creates a significant risk for the major causes of premature death – cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The manual was put together from the findings of the Remote Stores Project which worked with four communities across Arnhem Land, Cape York, Central Australia and The Torres Strait.

Already the resource is benefitting many Indigenous families. As one community leader puts it, “This here is really what we’re after... Half the mob are ready for this sort of stuff, they know they have to change…they’ll see those labels and then they’ll be able to buy that healthy food. The other half, they’re not ready to start shopping healthy yet…but they’ll start seeing those posters and labels and it will get them thinking, slowly.”