For good health, well-being and a healthy weight, it’s recommended that we eat:
- plenty of plant foods, such as fruit, vegetables, bread and other grain-based foods
- moderate amounts of animal foods (preferably lean and reduced fat), such as lean meat, reduced fat dairy products, chicken, fish and eggs
- small amounts (sometimes or not at all) of fatty, high sugar ‘extra foods’, such as lollies, chocolate, soft drinks, cakes, sweet biscuits, pies, sausage rolls, sugary drinks.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating sets out the amounts of each of the five food groups that children and adults should eat every day.
Population surveys indicate that many children do not meet these healthy eating recommendations. For example, children commonly eat too many ‘extra’ foods but not enough vegetables, fruit, breads and cereals.
Children and young people 0-15 years
The 2009-2010 Report on Child Health from the New South Wales Population Health Survey (NSW Health) provides a snapshot of the health and well-being of children aged 0-15 years. Information was collected from the parents and carers of more than 4,000 children.
The report made a number of important findings about the health of children and their eating habits.
- Almost three quarters of children aged 2-15 years ate the recommended daily fruit intake.
- Almost half of children aged 2-15 years ate the recommended daily amount of vegetables.
- Most children usually drank full cream milk, which can be high in fat. Reduced fat milk is recommended for children aged two years and above.
- The majority of children ate ‘extra foods’ – such as fried potato products, potato crisps or salty snacks, confectionary and cakes/biscuits – at least once per week.
- Few families ate together at the table every day and about a fifth of children ate in front of the television every day.
- Most children aged 0-23 months had been breastfed at some time, but few were exclusively breastfed to six months as recommended. However, there have been significant increases in exclusive breastfeeding till 6 months from previous surveys.
Some other large surveys provide additional information about the dietary patterns of young people in NSW.
Adolescent students in Years 6, 8 and 10 were surveyed on their food habits in 2010 as part of the NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS). The results showed that the food habits of many students fell short of the recommendations for healthy eating.
Many students consumed too many ‘extra foods’.
- Around a third ate confectionary at least three times a week.
- About 30% of boys and girls reported soft drinks were usually available at home, with more than half of all students having at least two cups a week.
- Over 60% of boys and girls reported eating hot chips or similar products at least once per week.
- Over a third indicated that they ate potato crisps or other salty snacks at least three times per week.
A substantial number of young people reported poor dietary patterns.
- About one-quarter of boys and one-third of girls did not eat breakfast every day. The frequency of eating breaksfast also decreased with age.
- About one-quarter of boys and girls ate dinner in front of the TV most nights.
- Similarly, the NSW Secondary Schools Healthy Behaviours (SSHB) Survey showed that many secondary students had poor food habits.
Similarly, the NSW Secondary Schools Health Behaviours (SSHB) Survey showed that many secondary students had poor food habits.
- Only one-quarter ate the recommended daily amount of breads and cereals (at least five serves every day) and vegetables (at least four seves every day) for their age
- About theree out of 10 boys and one in 5 girls drank soft drink, energy drink, fruit juice or cordial five or more times a week.
- Poor eating behaviours were common, such as skipping meals, parents offering lollies as a reward for a child’s good behaviour and not routinely eating as a family at the table.