This report provides an overview of the status of food and nutrition data in Australia, based on existing published measures relevant to the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults (NHMRC 2003). The purpose of the report is to assist in the development of a national food and nutrition monitoring system in Australia through informing indicator development and identifying gaps in existing data collection. This report also provides a comparison with relevant food and nutrition measures and data from a selected number of other countries.

The report follows on from and expands on the core set of indicators reported in Key food and nutrition data for Australia 1990–1999 (PDF) (Marks et al. 2001a), with measures aligned to the revised Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults. The dietary guidelines are a key statement of Australia’s policy goals and directions for supporting better nutritional outcomes for the population.

The food and nutrition data reviewed provide a status report on the nutrition of Australians. It is evident from available data relevant to the dietary guidelines that there are still important nutritional issues to be resolved in Australia. For example, more than 50% of people have reported not meeting the minimum recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, and data suggest a trend towards higher proportions of people being insufficiently active, and increased levels of obesity.

Although there is a large body of existing food and nutrition data pertinent to reporting against the Australian dietary guidelines, key components of these data are not collected on an ongoing basis and many are no longer recent—in particular, measures relating to dietary intakes and biomedical risk factors. There are also gaps in data availability relevant to the dietary guidelines. This lack of recent data for some areas, along with the gaps in data collection, makes it difficult to monitor changes in nutrition, and in conjunction with this, to effectively evaluate the dietary guidelines as an important policy document.

The international measures presented in this report suggest that Australian reporting of food and nutrition data has thus far been largely comparable to that in a range of similar countries. However, the measures also serve to highlight gaps in Australian data collection and suggest potential new measures that could be used to inform Australian indicator development. In addition, collating international measures has emphasised the age and non-ongoing status of much of the Australian data, as many of the countries reviewed have in place systems for collecting nutrition-related data on an ongoing basis.

The evident limitations of currently available data, in conjunction with continuing nutrition concerns, highlight the need for nationally endorsed indicators for food and nutrition in Australia to guide data collection and reporting. These indicators would be an important part of a comprehensive framework for ongoing monitoring and surveillance of Australia’s food and nutrition situation.