The report shows that Australia’s overall food consumption patterns have not changed much between 1995 and 2011. The report shows that there has been a slight decline in discretionary food consumption, but some trends have shown an increase in meat and grain products.
The message of eating more vegetables does not work. Since previous surveys, there has not been a change in the vegetable consumption of children and adolescents. However, it has decreased in adults. The new data shows that all Australians are far below the daily recommendation of five servings. We are getting closer to the one to two servings of fruit per day recommended by health experts.
Australians consume around four servings of grains, including cereals and breads, as opposed to the three to seven recommended.
A serving of vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup cooked vegetables. Fruit is equivalent to a medium-sized apple, while grains are similar to 1/2 cup of pasta. For dairy and meat alternatives, a glass of milk or 65-120g cooked meat is the equivalent serving.
Since 1995, added sugars and saturated fatty acids have contributed less to Australians’ daily energy intake. This could be due to the slight decrease in food consumption for all age groups.
But discretionary food consumption remains well above the recommended 0-3 servings. The average child aged 2-3 years eats more than three servings per day. This number peaks at seven daily serve for 14-18 year-olds. Even in adulthood, the pattern is high. The 70+ group consumes more than four servings per day.
Read more: Junk food packaging hijacks the same brain processes as drug and alcohol addiction.
The excess intake of discretionary foods is the most concerning trend in this report. This is due to the doubleheader of their poor nutrient profile and being eaten in place of important, nutrient-rich groups such as vegetables, whole grains and dairy foods.
In our simulation modeling, we compared strategies for reducing discretionary food consumption in the Australian population. Our simulation modelling showed that reducing discretionary food intake by half, or substituting half of the discretionary choices for five food groups, would result in significant reductions of energy intake and “risk” nutrients such as sodium and added sugar.
Discretionary food is a major contributor to the discretionary food market
Alcohol is often a forgotten choice. The NHMRC guidelines 2009 state:
Drinking no more than two standard drinks per day for healthy men and women (and no more than four standard drinks in a single event) will reduce the lifetime risk from alcohol-related diseases or injuries.
Alcoholic drinks make up more than one-fifth (22%) of the discretionary food consumption for adults aged 51 to 70. Since 1995, the consumption of alcohol by adults aged 51 to 70+ has increased. This group of people includes those at the height of their career, retired people and older people. This complex picture would include factors like loneliness, isolation, and mental health issues, as well as stress and increased leisure.
Read more: Four ways alcohol is bad for your health
Young children have small appetites, and every bite matters. The guidelines suggest 2-to-3-year-olds should have very limited exposure to discretionary foods. In studies, the greatest levels of excess weight are seen in preschool years.
The main source of sugar added to young children’s diets is biscuits, cakes, and muffins. They are also a major source of sugar, energy, and saturated fat in children. It is during this time that children form their long-lasting food preferences and habits.