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 gain-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 2007-2008 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 5,000 children.
The report made a number of important findings about the health of children and their eating habits.
- Adequate fruit intake declined markedly with age. Most younger children ate enough fruit every day, but only about half of children aged between nine and15 years ate the recommended daily amount.
- A minority of children 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 quarter 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.
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 2004 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 25-30% cent ate confectionary at least four times a week.
- About 55% of boys and 40% of girls reported drinking at least 2 quantities of 500ml of soft drink every day.
- Almost half of boys and over one-third of girls reported eating hot chips or similar products at least once per week.
- One in five students indicated that they ate potato crisps or other salty snacks at least four times per week
A substantial number of young people reported poor dietary patterns.
- About one-third of young people did not eat breakfast every day.
- About one-third of boys and girls ate dinner in front of the TV most nights.
- Similarly, the NSW Secondary Schools Health 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.
- A minority ate the recommended daily amount of breads and cereals (at least five serves every day) and vegetables (at least four serves every day) for their age.
- About three out of 10 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.