Too much food, too little balance on Aussie plates

Many Australians are eating too much of some foods and not enough of others, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

In 1994, the AIHW published its first comprehensive report on Australia’s food and nutrition. Australia’s food & nutrition 2012 is the much-anticipated revised edition, and was launched today by Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King, at the 2012 World Congress of the International Federation for Home Economics in Melbourne. The report highlights the key parts of the food and nutrition system from ‘paddock to plate’ and how food choices affect health and the environment.

‘The report shows that many Australians are not striking a balance between foods high in fat and sugar and more nutritious choices,’ said AIHW spokesperson Lisa McGlynn.

‘Treat’ or extra foods are generally high in energy and low in nutrients. They include takeaway items, crisps, sweet biscuits, cakes and pastries, confectionery, soft drinks and alcohol.  On average, extra foods contributed to 36% of energy intake for adults and 41% for children, which is more than the recommended 0–3 serves of ‘extras’ per day (depending on age and stage).

In addition, the majority of adults and children had higher energy intakes from total sugars and saturated fat than recommended—that is, a maximum of 20% from sugars and 10% from saturated and trans fats combined.

More than 9 in 10 people aged 16 and over don’t eat the recommended 5 serves of vegetables, adolescent girls don’t eat enough dairy foods or alternatives, and 25% of men and 10% of women aged 65 and over don’t eat enough protein foods.

Poor dietary intake increases the risk of developing chronic diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers) which contribute to the total burden of disease in Australia. One estimate suggests that poor diet costs the nation $5 billion each year. This includes direct costs, such as hospitals, GP services and medicines, and indirect costs, such as sick leave and forgone earnings due to premature death.

Poor diets can also lead to obesity, which is itself a risk factor for chronic disease. The latest data show that 23% of children aged 2–16 and 60% of adults in Australia are overweight or obese.

‘There are some factors that discourage Australians from eating well and maintaining a healthy body weight,’ Ms McGlynn said.

‘The cost of healthy food is increasing at a faster rate than the cost of less healthy food, particularly in remote areas, where a healthy basket of food can cost up to 30% more than in capital cities. This may influence some people to buy less healthy foods due to limited choice and high cost.’

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those from lower socioeconomic status areas are more likely to have fewer serves of fruit and vegetables, and be overweight or obese. They are also more likely to suffer from diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

A companion report, Australia’s food & nutrition: in brief, is also available.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.


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