Australians not eating enough from the five food groups

Australian Health Survey results

The 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey revealed Australians are not meeting their daily recommended dietary serves across the five food groups. The results of the survey showed that less than four per cent of the population met the ADGs for vegetables and legumes/beans each day, 10 per cent for the dairy food group, 14 per cent for lean meats and alternatives, 30 per cent for grain (cereal) foods and 31 per cent for fruit1

A confusing nutrition landscape and popularisation of fad diets goes some way to explaining the under-consumption of foods from the five food groups. However, the survey also revealed that on average, 35 per cent of Australians’ total daily energy intake came from discretionary (junk) foods2. This suggests that Australians are reaching for discretionary foods when they should be reaching for foods from the five food groups.

How have Australians’ diets changed?

A CSIRO study comparing Australian diets from 1995-1996 to 2011-2012, based on national nutrition survey data showed that Australians’ diets had improved. In 2011-2012, Australians were eating more fruit, a greater diversity of vegetables, less refined sugar, more yoghurt and there was an increased preference for brown and wholegrain cereals3. However, it also showed that Australians were still not eating in a manner consistent with national dietary guidelines4. In addition, the vegetable and legumes and the dairy food groups continue to be the most under-consumed of the five food groups5. The key learnings from the comparison in Australian diets from 1995 to 2011 were that Australians need to reduce consumption of energy-dense and nutrient poor discretionary foods and eat more whole fruit, vegetables, legumes and dairy food6.

Health professionals providing nutrition advice

General practitioners

A recent survey by Dairy Australia investigating the opinions and attitudes of 200 general practitioners (GPs) found that the number of diet and nutritional consultations with patients has steadily increased over the years, with an average of 37 per cent of consultations now involving a nutrition component7. In addition, GPs rated vegetables as the most important food group to discuss with patients, followed by fruit8. This is not surprising given that fruit and vegetables are often paired together in conversations around what constitutes a healthy diet.

Dietitians

Similarly, a survey exploring the opinions of 253 dietitians revealed that 55 per cent strongly agreed, and 31 per cent agreed that recommending foods from the dairy food group to patients, as part of a balanced diet is as important as recommending fruit and vegetables9. In addition, 87 per cent agreed that most Australians do not consume enough food from the dairy food group. The survey also revealed that 35 per cent of dietitians strongly agreed, and 44 percent somewhat agreed that milk, cheese and yoghurt are associated with a reduced risk of many chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, IHD and Metabolic Syndrome10.

Interestingly, a prospective cohort study from the UK investigating the incidence of type 2 diabetes found that people who reported consuming a diverse range of foods from all five food groups had a 30 per cent reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes than those with diets comprising three or fewer food groups11. The results of this study suggest that it’s important to encourage consumption of a wide variety of foods from the five food groups as they are all important in helping to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Conclusion 

While there have been some small improvements in Australian diets over time, health professionals can play a crucial role in encouraging their patients to reduce discretionary foods and eat a wider variety of foods from the five food groups. Health professionals can use the Nutrition Calculator to generate tailored fact sheets for every age and gender to show their patients how many recommended serves of each of the five food groups they need for optimal health. 

1 Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Released 11 May 2016.

2 Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Released 09 May 2014.

3 Ridoutt B, Baird D, Bastiaans K, Hendrie G, Riley M, Sanguansri P et al. Changes in Food Intake in Australia: Comparing the 1995 and 2011 National Nutrition Survey Results Disaggregated into Basic Foods. Foods. 2016;5(2):40.

4 Ridoutt B, Baird D, Bastiaans K, Hendrie G, Riley M, Sanguansri P et al. Changes in Food Intake in Australia: Comparing the 1995 and 2011 National Nutrition Survey Results Disaggregated into Basic Foods. Foods. 2016;5(2):40.

5 Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Released 11 May 2016.

6 Ridoutt B, Baird D, Bastiaans K, Hendrie G, Riley M, Sanguansri P et al. Changes in Food Intake in Australia: Comparing the 1995 and 2011 National Nutrition Survey Results Disaggregated into Basic Foods. Foods. 2016;5(2):40.

7 IMS Health 2016. Tracking data from General Practitioners (n=200). Dairy Australia.

8 IMS Health 2016. Tracking data from General Practitioners (n=200). Dairy Australia. 

9 Dietitian Connection Survey Monkey n=253, July 2016

10 Dietitian Connection Survey Monkey n=253, July 2016

11 Conklin A, Monsivais P, Khaw K, Wareham N, Forouhi N. Dietary Diversity, Diet Cost, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in the United Kingdom: A Prospective Cohort Study. PLoS Med. 2016;13(7):e1002085.