Notable findings of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 6th October 2008

The release of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey last Friday provided some interesting findings for food retailers and manufacturers beyond the discovery that 23% of 2-16 year-old children are overweight or obese; with required dietary changes providing opportunities for many in the food industry.

Milk-related products and cereals and cereal products (cakes, biscuits, pastries etc.) were the greatest contributors to energy intake, according to the survey – the first of its kind to involve both the Government and the food industry. Despite the high contribution of dairy amongst all children, the drop off in consumption from the younger children to the older kids would cause some concern in the dairy industry.

Although the decline from 416.3g of milk products and dishes per day amongst 2-3 year-old girls down to just 287.3g for 14-16 year-old girls would be worrying to the industry, it also presents an opportunity to grow and expand. The notable inability to meet recommended calcium intake amongst 9-16 children (particularly girls) highlights the need for more dairy products in the average child’s diet, with dairy companies just needing to find a new way to appeal to the lucrative market.

Fruit and vegetable consumption, on the whole, was below the ideal level, although many 2-3 year-old children managed to meet the recommended intake of fruit. Of concern was the drop in fruit consumption from the youngest to oldest children, particularly considering that older children ate substantially more. The comparatively high fruit consumption could be due to parents taking greater control of what their younger children eat, with teenagers probably more likely to head to the local milk bar after school to purchase a snack. Teenagers were, however, considerably more likely to eat vegetables.

Most children struggled to moderate intake of salt, saturated fat and sodium, with the sugar content in the diet of older children related to higher confectionery and cereal-based product (cakes, products etc.) consumption as opposed to younger children – who received more of their sugar from fruit sources.

Seafood, despite being linked to a number of health benefits, had reasonably low levels of consumption amongst all children. The recommended daily intake for adults is often regarded to be about 2-3 150g serves per week and, even going on the lower end of the recommendation (300g per week), 14-16 year-old children were well below the figure they should be reaching. Averaging out 300g over the course of the week teenagers should have been eating at least 40g every day, yet 14-16 year olds only managed a mean of about 14g.

Salmon Fillets

Many children turned to meat, poultry and game to satisfy their protein needs, with older boys (14-16 years) found to eat three times as much as younger boys (2-3 years). Part of this can be attributed to the increased appetites of older children, but the percentage of their daily energy from such products did rise from 8.4% (2-3 years) to 13% (14-16 years).

The consumption of savoury sauces and condiments trebled amongst both boys and girls from the youngest to oldest. The greatest jump was seen from the 4-8 age group to the 9-13 age group in this sector, implying that children begin to appreciate a wider range of flavours as they head toward their teenage years.

In terms of daily consumption of kilojoules, children appeared most likely to overeat between the ages of three and five. The number over and under eating was about the same in teenage years for boys; while the turnaround in girls was startlingly as, from the age of 12, many more were found to be under-eating rather than overeating. More than a third of girls were not getting enough energy in their teenage years, with about half not reaching the lower end of the recommended range of daily kJ intake. Such findings support fears that many girls feel under pressure to under eat in their teenage years, as the median intake of kJ was even below the lower end of the recommended range.

The recommended daily intake of important nutrients was, for the most part, met by 2-13 year-olds, with the most notable concern being a lack of calcium in the diets of 9-13 year old children. The oldest group of children, however, struggled to meet their daily requirements of a number of vital nutrients. Vitamin A, folate, calcium and magnesium were met by less than 90 per cent of both boys and girls, while less than 90 per cent of girls met needs of phosphorus, iron and iodine and less than 90 per cent of boys reached recommended levels of zinc.

The inability to meet needs for most of these nutrients can be put down to the low consumption of vital fruits and vegetables. The lack of some of these minerals and vitamins in the average child’s diet also presents an opportunity to retailers and manufacturers of seafood, whole grain and nut products; with higher consumption of such products providing a diverse range of nutrients and able to alleviate current fears of under consumption.

Fibre intake was in-line with recommended intake levels for boys but older girls were seen at the lower end of the adequate intake range, while potassium, sodium and fluid intakes were considered to be sufficient.

The full research report can be discovered at: