Our diet has become so poor that the two in three Australians who are overweight are now malnourished.
A News Corp Australia investigation has found Australian women are deficient in calcium and iron and all Australians are eating far less fibre than they need to be properly nourished.
The nutrition problem is so extreme in some indigenous communities one in five children suffer from stunted growth and physical wasting on a scale that is worse than that in West Africa, says leading nutrition expert Queensland University’s Professor Amanda Lee.
This is because a third of the energy intake of adults and 40 per cent of the energy intake of children now comes from junk food.
News Corp Australia in partnership with the Heart Foundation today calls on the Federal Government to establish a national nutrition strategy that will include policies to reduce sugar and salt in the Australian diet, cut consumption of saturated fats and improve consumption of fruit and vegetables and whole grains.
The strategy would include a sugar tax (28 countries and seven US states already have this tax), a ban on junk food advertising to children, improved food labelling, removing soft drinks and junk food from schools and hospitals, subsidies for healthy food and funding for a new national health survey.
There should also be a return to teaching home economics at high school so young Australians are taught to cook healthy food and a new Australian Health Survey to measure nutrition intakes.
Two in three Australians are overweight or obese and experts warn eight in 10 people will weigh too much by 2023 with the problem costing $58 billion a year in health costs and lost productivity.
And we’re in denial about the problem with one in 10 people who are obese describing themselves as “average weight”.
Nutrition expert Dr Rosemary Stanton said women aged under 50 need 18mg or iron a day but Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows they get just 9.67g mg from their diet.
The same women need 1000mg of calcium a day but get just 745mg.
All Australians need 30 grams of fibre per day but eat just 22 grams.
“Dietary fibre comes from fruit and vegetables and wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, it gives us the good gut bacteria that protects against cancer and heart disease and Type 2 diabetes,” Dr Stanton said.
“Obesity is recognised as a form of malnutrition now,” leading nutrition expert Queensland University’s Professor Amanda Lee said.
“The most recent health survey shows less than one per cent of Australians are eating according to the National Health and Medical Research nutrition guidelines.”
The consequences of our poor eating habits are deadly.
Poor diet is the biggest driver of heart disease accounting for 65.5 per cent of the total burden of the illness, it’s also causing one in three cancers and is responsible for one million cases of Type 2 diabetes and its contributing to arthritic pain
Eating healthy would not only save lives it would actually save families money, research has shown.
Fifty eight per cent of a family’s food budget currently goes on junk food in the form of sugary drinks (four per cent), take away (14 per cent), alcohol (12 per cent), other junk food (18 per cent).
Families who ate according to the National Health and Medical Research Guidelines would save 15 per cent of their food bill, says Professor Lee.
Experts are alarmed that the federal Department of Health has refused to fund the next Australian Health Survey scheduled for 2023, a survey that would survey 50,000 people to get the latest data on the dietary intake and exercise rates of Australians.
“I presume they didn’t like the results last time so they decided just not to measure it again,” said Professor Lee.
Public Health Association CEO Terry Slevin said without a national nutrition strategy our farmers were directionless and weren’t even growing enough fruit and vegetables to meet the national dietary requirements.
Government Research and Development funding was also out of whack with the dietary guidelines providing the most funding to meat with much less to fruit, vegetables and grains which should make up the bulk of our diet.
“There is a mismatch between agricultural production and recommended consumption in Australia,” he said.
“Surely we should aim to grow enough of, and promote consumption of, our own veggies,” he said.