Australian Health Survey results reveal Australians’ diets

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 19th May 2014
Australian Health Survey results reveal Australians' eating habits

In 2011-12, Australians aged 2 years and over consumed an estimated 3.1 kilograms of foods and beverages (including water) per day, made up from a wide variety of foods across the major food groups, findings from the Australian Health Survey showed.

The findings were published by the Australian Bureau of Statsitcs (ABS) as part of the first release of nutrition data from the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS). The findings were based on results from a 24-hour dietary recall of food, beverages and dietary supplements, as well as some general information on dietary behaviours. The ABS said future releases would focus on usual intakes of nutrients, including comparisons against nutrient reference values where relevant.

Food types consumed

Cereal products

Cereals and cereal products or cereal-based products were the most popular category, with 97 per cent of survey participants saying they had eaten foods from this category in the previous 24 hours.

Regular bread and bread rolls was the most commonly eaten type of Cereal and cereal product, being consumed by 66 per cent of people. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals were eaten by 36 per cent of the population.


More than eight out of ten people (85 per cent) reported having consumed foods from the Milk products and dishes group on the day prior to interview. Foods in this group provided an average 11 per cent of the population’s energy intake. Around two-thirds (68 per cent) of people consumed Dairy milk, while almost one-third (32 per cent) had Cheese.

Meat, poultry and game

The ABS findings showed that meat, poultry and game products and dishes were consumed by around seven out of ten (69 per cent) people on the day prior to interview, providing 14 per cent of total energy intakes.

Chicken was the most commonly consumed meat within this category with 31 per cent either eating a piece of chicken or eating chicken as part of mixed dish. Beef was consumed by 20 per cent (either alone or in a mixed dish). Ham was the most commonly consumed processed meat, being consumed by 12 per cent of the population.

Fruit and vegetables

Vegetable products and dishes were consumed by three-quarters (75 per cent) of the population, with Potatoes making up around one-quarter (by weight) of all vegetables consumed. However, based on people’s self-reported usual consumption of vegetables, just 6.8 per cent of the population met the recommended usual intake of vegetables.

Fruit products and dishes were consumed by six out of ten people (60 per cent) overall on the day before interview. Based on self-reported usual serves of fruit eaten per day, just over half (54 per cent) met the recommendations for usual serves of fruit.

‘Discretionary foods’

The ABS findings showed that just over one-third (35 per cent) of total energy consumed came from ‘discretionary foods’. This name is given to foods that are considered to be of little nutritional value and which tend to be high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/or alcohol.

The proportion of energy from discretionary foods was highest among the 14-18 year olds (41 per cent).

The particular food groups contributing most of the energy from discretionary foods were: alcoholic beverages (4.8 per cent of energy); cakes, muffins scones and cake-type desserts (3.4 per cent); confectionery and cereal/nut/fruit/seed bars (2.8 per cent); pastries (2.6 per cent); sweet biscuits and savoury biscuits (2.5 per cent); and soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters (1.9 per cent).


The most popular beverages consumed were water (consumed by 87 per cent of the population), coffee (46 per cent), tea (38 per cent) soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters (29 per cent) and Alcoholic beverages (25 per cent).

Energy and nutrients

The average energy intake was 9,655 kilojoules (kJ) for males and 7,402 kJ for females. Energy intakes were lowest among the toddler aged children who averaged 5,951 kJ and were highest among 19 to 30 year old males (11,004 kJ). Female energy intakes were highest among the 14 to 18 year olds (8,114 kJ).


Carbohydrate contributed the largest proportion of total energy, supplying 45 per cent on average with the balance of energy coming from fat (31 per cent), protein (18 per cent), alcohol (3.4 per cent) and dietary fibre (2.2 per cent).

Within carbohydrates, starch contributed 24 per cent and sugars contributed 20 per cent of energy. The major source of total sugars (natural and added) in the diets were: fruit (providing 16 per cent of sugars); soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters (9.7 per cent); dairy milk (8.1 per cent); fruit and vegetable juices and drinks (7.5 per cent); sugar, honey and syrups (6.5 per cent); cakes, muffins, scones, cake-type desserts (5.8 per cent).


The average daily intake of sodium from food was just over 2,404 mg (equivalent to around one teaspoon of table salt). This amount included sodium naturally present in foods as well as sodium added during processing, but excluded the ‘discretionary salt’ added by consumers in home prepared foods or ‘at the table’.

In addition to sodium from food, 64 per cent of Australians reported that they add salt very often or occasionally either during meal preparation or at the table, therefore the true average intake is likely to be significantly higher.

Dietary supplements

In 2011-12, 29 per cent of Australians reported taking at least one dietary supplement on the day prior to interview. Females were more likely than males to have had a dietary supplement (33 per cent and 24 per cent respectively), with the highest proportion of consumers in the older age groups.

Multivitamin and/or multimineral supplements were the most commonly taken dietary supplements, being consumed by around 16 per cent of the population with fish oil supplements taken by around 12 per cent of the population.


In 2011-12, over 2.3 million Australians (13 per cent) aged 15 years and over reported that they were on a diet to lose weight or for some other health reason. This included 15 per cent of females and 11 per cent of males. Being on a diet was most prevalent among 51 to 70 year olds where 19 per cent of females and 15 per cent of males were on some kind of diet.

Food avoidance

In 2011-12, 17 per cent of Australians aged 2 years or over (or 3.7 million people) reported avoiding a food type due to allergy or intolerance and 7 per cent (1.6 million) avoided particular foods for cultural, religious or ethical reasons.

The most common type of food intolerance reported was cow’s milk/dairy (4.5 per cent), followed by gluten (2.5 per cent), shellfish (2.0 per cent) and peanuts (1.4 per cent).

Pork was the most commonly avoided food type (3.9 per cent) for cultural, religious or ethical reasons, while 2.1 per cent specified avoiding all meat.


The ABS said that in order to assist in the interpretation of data from the 2011-12 NNPAS and particularly in comparisons with the 1995 National Nutrition Survey, there were a few key points that should be noted.

  • It is likely that under-reporting is present in both surveys.

  • There appears to be an increase in the level under-reporting for males between 1995 and 2011-12, especially for males aged 9 to 50 years.

  • The level of under-reporting by female respondents also appears to have increased, but to a lesser extent than for males.