Australians’ diets across different stages of life

As we age, our food and nutrient requirements change. However, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one thing remains consistent across all ages: the quality of our diet is poor.

 

The report, "Nutrition across the life stages", presents data on Australian diets across the stages of life, mapping whether or not different age groups are meeting Australia’s food and nutrient recommendations.

 

The Australian Dietary Guidelines encourage people to consume the right types and amounts of food to support their energy and nutrient needs, consisting of a variety of foods from the 5 food groups (vegetables, fruit, grains, lean meat and alternatives, and dairy products and alternatives), while also limiting intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol. They also encourage breastfeeding when possible, and preparing and storing food safely.

 

The report shows that across all stages of life, Australians generally do not eat enough food from the 5 food groups.

 

‘For example, very few of us eat enough vegetables. This is at its worst among children aged 2–18, 99% of whom do not eat enough vegetables,’ said Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) spokesperson Claire Sparke.

 

Similar results were seen for the other food groups. When looking at the average daily intake of foods for different age groups, only children aged 2–8 meet the fruit recommendations. For grains, only males aged 4–11, females aged 9–11 and females aged 71 and over meet the recommendations. Toddlers aged 2–3 are the only group to meet the dairy recommendations.

 

‘We are also consuming too much added sugars, saturated fat and sodium (salt), which is probably because about one-third of Australians’ energy intake comes from discretionary food.

 

Discretionary foods are foods and drinks that are not necessary to provide the nutrients we need and include items such as cakes, biscuits, confectionery, pastries, potato chips, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks.

 

For adults aged 51–70, alcoholic drinks account for more than one-fifth of discretionary food intake.

 

The report says (p.78 ) that overall, adults aged 51–70:

  • fall short of meeting the recommended daily serves all 5 food groups (based on average intake), and a large proportion do not meet the recommended serves of vegetables and dairy products and alternatives
  • get one-third (33%) of their energy from discretionary foods
  • get 7.7% of their energy from added sugars and 12% from saturated and trans fats (with the latter exceeding the 10% recommended limit)
  • have an intake of sodium well above the level of adequate intake.

More than 6 in 10 (63%) men and more than 9 in 10 (91%) women have inadequate calcium intakes.

 

Nearly 2 in 5 (39%) adults do the recommended amount of physical activity each day and almost 3 in 4 (74%) are overweight or obese. Indigenous adults, on average, consume fewer serves of fruit, vegetables and dairy products and alternatives than non-Indigenous adults.

 

For Adults aged 71 and over the report (p.68) covers individuals in the general population and excludes those who live in residential aged care (about 220,000 Australians aged 70 and over) (Productivity Commission 2017).

 

Overall, adults aged 71 and over:

  • • fall short of meeting the recommended daily serves for 4 of the 5 food groups (based on average intake), excluding grain foods for women, and almost everyone does not meet the recommended serves of dairy products and alternatives
  • • get about one-third (34%) of their energy from discretionary foods
  • • get 8.2% of their energy from added sugars and 12% from saturated and trans fats (with the latter exceeding the 10% recommended limit)
  • • have an intake of sodium well above the level of adequate intake.

 

Nine in 10 men (90%) and over 9 in 10 women (94%) have inadequate calcium intakes.

 

About 1 in 5 (22%) adults do the recommended amount of physical activity each day and about 7 in 10 (71%) are overweight or obese.

 

Despite these concerning findings, the report does have some good news.

 

‘We’re generally getting enough of the nutrients we need in our diets; however, iron and calcium intakes for girls and women in some age groups do need to improve,’ she said.

 

In addition to examining nutrition over different stages of life, the report also looks at the diets of different population groups. It shows that there is little difference in the diets of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, but that a person’s socioeconomic status and distance from a major city play an important role.

 

‘Australians living in major cities have healthier diets and lower levels of physical inactivity and overweight and obesity than those living in more remote areas. The same is true for those in higher socioeconomic areas compared with those in lower socioeconomic areas,’ Ms Sparke said.

 

Today’s report is a companion to an AIHW report released earlier this year, showing patterns of physical activity across the life stages, which showed that few Australians meet the physical activity guidelines.

 

For more information on the Australian Dietary Guidelines, visit www.eatforhealth.gov.au

 

26 October 2018.