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Trends: Children

Diet and exercise in Australian children

Last updated 06-06-2019

Few Australian children are meeting guidelines for the recommended daily intake of vegetables, with a high proportion of total daily energy intake coming from discretionary foods and many children exceeding recommended limits for consumption of added sugars. The proportion of children meeting physical activity recommendations declined in line with age.

Key Evidence

01

6.3% of Australian children are consuming the recommended daily intake of vegetables

02

73.8% of 9 to 13-year-olds exceed recommended limits on energy from free sugars

03

67.8% of 14 to 17-year-old boys consume sugar-sweetened beverages at least weekly

04

16.6% of 9 to 13-year-olds are doing sufficient physical activity

Intake of core foods

Overall, 73.0% of children aged 2 to 17 years met the guidelines for recommended daily serves of fruit, while 6.3% met the guidelines for serves of vegetables in 2017-18. This varied by age group.1

Fruit and vegetable intake

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018. Table 17.3

Note: National Health and Medical Research Council's 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend a minimum number of serves of fruit and vegetables each day, depending on a person's age and sex, to ensure good nutrition and health.

Met recommendation fruit Met recommendation veg

Food consumption by serve

Australian children shifted towards relatively more meat consumption between 1995 and 2011, reflecting a shift also seen in adults, while vegetable consumption patterns for children varied by age group.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.012 - Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011-12. 2016.
Note: Mean number of serves per 10,000 kilojoules, by food groups. Intake from non-discretionary sources. Based on self-reported food intake

Food group Age group 1995 2011-12
Vegetables 2-3 years 1.97 2.34
4-8 years 1.99 2.24
9-11 years 2.25 2.28
12-13 years 2.51 2.28
14-18 years 2.81 2.43
Fruit 2-3 years 3.08 3.08
4-8 years 2.46 2.73
9-11 years 1.81 2.29
12-13 years 1.86 2.00
14-18 years 1.64 1.72
Milk, yoghurt, cheese & alternatives 2-3 years 3.20 3.21
4-8 years 2.06 2.14
9-11 years 1.85 1.83
12-13 years 1.79 1.86
14-18 years 1.77 1.65
Lean meat & alternatives 2-3 years 0.80 1.31
4-8 years 0.95 1.17
9-11 years 1.04 1.39
12-13 years 1.13 1.54
14-18 years 1.38 1.79
Grains 2-3 years 4.71 5.55
4-8 years 5.12 5.94
9-11 years 5.21 5.71
12-13 years 4.89 5.69
14-18 years 5.10 5.66

Discretionary food intake

On average, about one-third of total daily energy in 2011-12 in the diets of Australian children was from discretionary foods. The proportion increased with children’s age. Key contributors to children’s discretionary food intake include sweet biscuits, cakes and muffins, chocolate, snack foods, fried potato products, ice cream and pastries.2

Percentage of total daily energy intake from discretionary food

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018.

Note: The Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary lists examples of discretionary choices as including: most sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts and pastries; processed meats and sausages; ice-cream; confectionery and chocolate; savoury pastries and pies; commercial burgers; commercially fried foods; potato chips, crisps and other fatty and/or salty snack foods; cream, butter and spreads which are high in saturated fats; sugar sweetened soft drinks and cordials, sports and energy drinks.

Total daily energy intake from discretionary foods

Free sugars above recommended intake

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. Supplementary table 19.

Proportion with intakes of free sugars ≥ 10% energy intake

A large proportion of Australian children exceed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limits on energy from free sugars. Free sugars are sugars added to foods by manufacturers or consumers, and those naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. The WHO recommends limiting energy from free sugars to less than 10% of daily energy intake (around 12 teaspoons).3 In 2011-12, the proportion of Australian children exceeding the WHO recommendation for free sugar intake varied by age group.4

Average intake of added sugars

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.011 - Australian Health Survey: Consumption of added sugars, 2011-12. 2016. Table 1.1
Note: Converted from grams (divided by 4) and rounded to nearest teaspoon.

Age group Boys (teaspoons) Girls (teaspoons)
2-3 years 8 8
4-8 years 13 11
9-13 years 17 15
14-18 years 21 16

Boys aged 14 to 18 years had the highest average intake of added sugars in 2011-12. Average intake of added sugars increased with age, and boys consumed more added sugars than girls in all age groups. Added sugars are those added to foods by manufacturers or consumers, excluding those naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018. Supplementary table 17.3

Note: Sugar-sweetened beverages include soft drink, cordials, sports drinks or caffeinated energy drinks. This definition excludes fruit juice, flavoured milk and 'sugar free' drinks.

Boys Girls

Among children and teenagers, boys aged 14 to 17 were most likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) at least weekly in 2017-18. Regular consumption of SSBs was higher among boys than girls, and increased with age. 5

Physical activity

In 2011-12, the proportion of children who did sufficient physical activity declined by age, with 74.9% of children aged 2 to 3 years; 42.8% of children aged 4 to 8; 16.6% of children aged 9 to 13; and 16.2% of children aged 14 to 18 doing sufficient physical activity.6

Physical activity snapshot

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. Supplementary table 29.

For 2-4 years, sufficient physical activity is classified as at least 180 minutes a day for seven consecutive days; and for 5–18 years, at least 60 minutes a day for seven consecutive days.

Sufficient physical activity

References

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018. Table 17.3. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/
2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports
3. World Health Organization. Sugars intake for adults and children: guideline. Geneva, Switzerland 2015. https://www.who.int/nutrition/
4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. Supplementary table 19. https://www.aihw.gov.au/report...
5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/
6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. Supplementary table 29. https://www.aihw.gov.au/report...