Report reveals Australian diets are lacking raising concerns for children
A new report released today from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that the quality of the Australian diet is poor, across all age groups, and highlights food group areas where children as young as two are lacking in nutrition.
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 five 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.
Specific dietary guidance for children and young people is available, as well as programs such as Get up and Grow, and Munch and Move, to support and promote healthy eating in early childhood education and care (ECEC) services.
AIHW spokesperson Claire Sparke said that Australians generally do not eat enough food from the five food groups. “For example, very few of us eat enough vegetables. This is at its worst among children aged 2-18, 99 percent of whom do not eat enough vegetables,” she said.
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 many 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,” said Ms Sparke.
For children, cakes, muffins, sweet biscuits, chips and ice cream are some of the leading contributors to their intake of discretionary food.
Seeking to combat these findings, and other research which finds that by 2025, a third of the world population will be obese, service providers are becoming increasingly aware of the issue of health promotion, with element 2.1.3 of the National Quality Standards requiring services to promote healthy eating and physical activity in a way which is appropriate for each child.
Co-founder of Paisley Park Early Learning Centres Kat Wieczorek-Ghisso says that in order to make a real difference in the eating habits of young Australians, community organisations, including those in the business of childcare, must be receptive to shouldering responsibility in combating the obesity epidemic in partnership, and leading by example.
Paisley Park is a private provider with 20 centres around Australia, and has a focus on implementing a food philosophy where qualified chefs, garden patches and access to locally grown fresh produce is a featured part of the daily program, guided by prominent chef Miguel Maestre.
There is a focus on exposing children to ingredients, herbs and spices from a global palette, and moving outside of the traditional offerings of a childcare setting, Ms Wieczorek-Ghisso said, with an aim of encouraging children to try new foods, and become truly engaged with the cycle of preparing and enjoying a meal, engaging in social meal times, and cleaning up afterwards.