Are Australian children eating healthier?
Australian National dietary survey’s are few and far between. These large and expensive Australian representative surveys are invaluable for understanding Australian’s food intake and nutrition status and the results provide the evidence base for public health, marketing and policy decisions. With 1 in 4 of Australian children overweight or obese, regular monitoring of the dietary intakes of children is essential.
Australia’s most recent National Nutrition Survey was conducted in 1995 (NNS 95), and the 2011-13 Australian Health Survey is currently in field now. In 2007, a National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NCNPAS07) was completed to understand what Australian Children were eating and their physical activity habits. A group of respected Australian researchers has just published their findings of the nutritional comparison of both surveys, to determine whether there was a change in core food intakes among Australian children between 1995 and 2007, and to review trends over this 12 year period.
The authors analysed the 24 hour recall data from the NNS95 with almost 2500 participants, and the NCNPAS07, with almost 5000 participants aged between 2-16 years. The researchers compared the differences between how many children were consuming each food group, the amounts consumed and the contribution of these foods to energy intake. Based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, core foods were identified as: breads and cereals, meat and alternatives, milk and alternatives, fruit, and vegetables.
The consumption of core foods increased significantly between the 1995 and 2007 surveys by per-capita consumption and percent energy contribution. Core foods contributed 59% of energy intake in 1995 and 65% in 2007. The types of core foods also moved to more healthy choices. In the breads and cereals group there was a significant increase in the percent of children consuming wholemeal and fibre-increased bread, high-fibre breakfast cereal, pasta, noodles and rice. Total breads and cereals consumption remained largely unchanged, but still provided the largest energy contribution of all the core food groups. There were significant increases in per capita consumption of wholemeal bread, pasta, noodles, and high fibre breakfast cereals, along with decreases in white bread. Children in the older age groups were more likely to consume bread as white bread (69%), while younger children consumed a greater proportion as wholemeal (51%). Sales of wholegrain, wholemeal and artisan types of breads have also increased over recent years. The Go Grains Health & Nutrition ‘4+ serves a day’ message, which actively promotes the health and nutrition benefits of grain-based foods, preferably wholegrain, along with increased marketing of wholegrains on pack may have prompted the growing interest in wholegrains.
Overall the authors concluded there appears to have been some notable improvements in the diets of Australian children since 1995. There was an increase in the consumption of healthier food choices, accompanied by decreases in the consumption of unhealthier food choices in 2007.
Breads and cereals remain the most important contributors to the core food intakes of Australian children and since 1995 there has been a trend to healthier wholemeal and high-fibre choices.