The food we eat plays an important role in our health and wellbeing. Good nutrition contributes to quality of life, helps maintain healthy body weight, protects against infection, and reduces the risk of chronic conditions and premature death. Chronic conditions—often linked with a poor diet—are the major cause of ill health in Australia.
Australia has national dietary guidelines to support optimal nutritional and health outcomes for the population. This report looks at whether Australians are meeting these guidelines, and how results differ across the life stages.
It shows that Australians of all ages generally:
- do not eat enough of the 5 food groups—vegetables, fruit, grains, meat and alternatives and dairy products and alternatives
- eat too much food that is high in energy and low in nutrients (‘discretionary food’)
- eat too much sugar, saturated fat, and sodium (salt).
This suboptimal food and nutrient intake begins from an early age (as young as 2), which means good eating practices are not being established in early childhood to take forward into adulthood.
Despite this, the nutrient intake and nutrient status of Australians is generally adequate, but physical activity levels are low, and levels of overweight and obesity are high.
Leading contributors to discretionary food intake include pastries, snack foods and ice cream, while for adults, alcoholic drinks also dominate. Although sugar-sweetened drinks are leading contributors to added sugars intake, they feature lower down the list of leading discretionary foods for most age groups.
Australians do not eat according to the 5 food group recommendations
Nearly all Australians (99%) aged 2–18, and 9 in 10 adults aged 19 and over do not eat the recommended number of daily serves of vegetables.
Although intake of fruit is closest to meeting the recommended daily serves, nearly 4 in 5 adults (77%) aged 19–50 still do not eat enough fruit.
Intake of dairy products and alternatives for the younger population meets or approaches the recommended serves, but reduces substantially from age 9, with more than 80% of the population not eating enough dairy serves.
About one-third of Australians’ energy comes from discretionary food, including alcohol
Discretionary foods are high in energy but low in nutrients, and are not needed to meet nutrient requirements. About one-third of Australians’ energy comes from these foods and the proportion is even higher for teenagers aged 14–18, at 41%.
For children, sweet biscuits, cakes and muffins, potato and corn chips, pastries, ice cream and fried potato products are leading contributors to discretionary food intake.
For adults aged 51–70, alcoholic drinks account for more than one-fifth (22%) of discretionary food intake.
Australians consume more sugars, saturated fat and sodium than recommended
The high discretionary food intake of Australians is at the expense of more nutritious foods from the 5 food groups, and may contribute to Australians exceeding the recommendations for intake of added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
- Soft drinks, fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, cakes and muffins, cordials and sweet biscuits are leading contributors to added sugars intake across all age groups.
- Sweet biscuits, muffins and cakes, processed meat, butter and other dairy products and chocolate confectionary are leading contributors to saturated fat intake across all age groups.
- Bread; meat, poultry and game products and dishes; cereal products and dishes; savoury sauces and condiments; and cheese are the leading contributors to sodium intake.
Australians generally get enough key nutrients in their diet
Despite not eating the recommended serves of the 5 food groups and consuming a high amount of discretionary food, the nutrient intake of Australians, as a whole, is not adversely affected. However, iron and calcium intakes for girls and women in some age groups do need to improve.
Australians are consuming less discretionary food than in the past
Since 1995, the contribution of total sugars, added sugars, total fat and saturated fat to energy intake has generally decreased. This may be a reflection of the decrease in discretionary food intake seen for most age groups. For children, intakes of grain food and meat and alternatives serves have increased. For adults, intakes of vegetable serves have decreased, while intakes of meat and alternatives serves have increased.
Although Australians are consuming less discretionary food overall, in 2011–12 alcohol made up a larger proportion of total energy intake than in 1995 for people aged 50 and over (4.1% compared with 5.6% for those aged 51–70, and 2.7% compared with 4.0% for those aged 71 and over).
Overweight and obesity levels are high and physical activity levels are low
Levels of physical activity across the population groups are generally low, and the prevalence of overweight and obesity is high, reaching 81% for males aged 51–70.
The diets of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are largely similar
Overall, the diets of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are similar. However, Indigenous adults in some age groups eat less fruit, vegetables and dairy products and alternatives. They also have a lower intake of fibre and a higher intake of discretionary food and added sugars than non-Indigenous adults.
Socioeconomic status and distance from a major city influence diet, physical activity and overweight and obesity
On average, Australians living in Major cities, or in higher socioeconomic areas, have more favourable food and nutrient intakes, higher levels of physical activity, and lower levels of overweight and obesity.