Poor diet in children
The five food groups
The last comprehensive survey of diet in children and adolescents occurred in the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey 2011-13 (ABS 2014) using 24 hour dietary recall. On average in 2011–12;
- Vegetables: children and adolescents did not meet the recommendations
- Fruit: Children aged 2 to 8 did meet the recommendations, while those aged 9 to 18 did not
- Grains: only boys aged 4 to 11 and girls aged 9 to 11 met the recommendations
- Lean meats and alternatives: the majority of children did not meet the recommendations
- Dairy products and alternatives: Only children aged 2–3 met the recommendation for dairy consumption.
For the full results of children’s nutrition, see Nutrition across the life stages.
Discretionary foods are foods that are not needed to meet nutrient requirements and generally tend to be high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars, added salt and alcohol (NHMRC 2013). The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that discretionary foods should be consumed occasionally and in small amounts, and for most people 0 to 3 serves a day is suitable depending on age, height and activity level. An example of 1 serve of discretionary food is 2–3 sweet biscuits or 2 scoops of ice cream or 12 fried hot chips (NHMRC 2013). In 2011–12, the proportion of energy intake from discretionary foods increased with age for children. Discretionary foods accounted for:
- 29% of energy intake in boys aged 2–3 or and 32% in girls aged 2–3, (approximately 3 serves of discretionary foods per day)
- 41% of boys and girls energy intake at age 14–18 (approximately 6 to 8 serves of discretionary foods per day) (AIHW 2018).
For children intake of sodium is also well above the suggested adequate intake for all age groups. The Guidelines recommend to limit saturated fat intake and for all children, approximately 14% of energy intake was from saturated fat. For full results of children’s nutrition, see Nutrition across the life stages see Nutrition across the life stages.
Sugar sweetened drinks
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend to limit intakes of drinks high in added sugars, as they can provide excess kilojoules with little nutritional value and can increase the risk of excessive weight gain (NHMRC 2013). Based on the ABS National Health Survey in 2017–18:
- Three out of five (59%) children aged 2–17 did not consume sugar sweetened drinks.
- 7.1% of children aged 2–17 consumed sugar sweetened drinks daily.
- Daily consumption of sugar sweetened drinks generally increased as age increased, for both boys and girls—from 4% of 2–3 year olds up to 12% of 14–17 year olds.
- Boys were more likely to consume sugar sweetened drinks than girls (47% compared with 35%).
- Children were more likely to consume sugar sweetened drinks on 1–3 days a week (31%) compared with daily (7.1%).
- Children aged 2–17 years who are daily consumers of sugar sweetened drinks consume on average 2.4 cups per day (equivalent to 1.6 cans of soft drink or one 600mL bottle). The average intake for boys was almost twice as high as for girls (2.8 cups per day compared with 1.6 cups) (ABS 2018;Table S2)
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2014. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results—Foods and Nutrients, 2011–12, ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.007, Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
ABS 2018. National Health Survey: First Results, 201718. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
AIHW 2018. Nutrition across the life stages. Cat. no. PHE 227. Canberra: AIHW.
NHMRC 2013. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.