MMMMM. Picture: Ellen Smith
MMMMM. Picture: Ellen Smith

Surprising good news about our food habits

JUNK food has taken a dive in popularity among Australians over the years according to an insight into our eating habits - but there are also some concerning findings.

According to a government report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, our consumption of sugary and fatty treats has declined since comparable statistics were collected back in 1995.

"We've also seen a general decrease in the contribution of added sugars and fat to our energy intake," AIWH spokeswoman Claire Sparke said.

"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."

And just like a sugar comedown, now we hit the bad news.

While the amount of junk food we are eating has decreased over the last two decades, the Nutrition Across the Life Stages report reveals a whopping one third of Australians' energy intake is still coming from treats and "discretionary foods" - things with zero nutrients like lollies, donuts and potato chips.

The research reveals the types of bad foods we Aussies indulge in changes depending on different age brackets.

Junk food is most popular among teens, who receive 41 per cent of their energy intake from no-nutrient foods. To make it a double disaster, teenagers are not exercising enough either.

Sweet treats like cupcakes and donuts are finding their way into children’s diets too often. Picture: Ellen Smith
Sweet treats like cupcakes and donuts are finding their way into children’s diets too often. Picture: Ellen Smith

"In the teenage years, when discretionary food intake peaks, it is concerning that the data also shows a decline in physical activity at the same time," Ms Sparke added.

"Physical activity levels are lower among teenagers - both girls and boys - than any other age group."

The most common junk foods children consume include cakes, muffins, sweet biscuits, chips and ice cream, while grown-ups - not surprisingly - indulge in alcohol, which made up one fifth of discretionary consumption in the 51-70 age bracket.

Alarmingly, we are not eating anywhere near enough the recommended vegetable intake.
Alarmingly, we are not eating anywhere near enough the recommended vegetable intake.

The real crisis was a lack of vegetables in everyday Australians diet - across all age brackets - with only one in 10 adults having the recommended five serves of veggies in their daily diet.

Alarmingly, 99 per cent of Australian children aged between two and 18 are not eating enough vegetables.

In addition to examining nutrition over different stages of life, the report also looks at the diets of different population groups.

It shows little difference in the diets of indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, but found people living in major cities were healthier than those in rural towns.

"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," Ms Sparke said.

Today's report follows another AIHW report released earlier this year, which revealed few Australians were meeting the physical activity guidelines.