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Trends: Adults

Diet and exercise in Australian adults

Last updated 06-06-2019

Very few Australian adults are meeting guidelines for the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables, with a high proportion of total daily energy intake coming from discretionary food and drinks. Just 15% of Australian adults aged 18-64 years are meeting guidelines for physical activity and strength training.

Key Evidence

01

92.4% of Australian adults are not consuming the recommended daily intake of vegetables

02

59.5% of 19 to 30-year-olds exceed recommended limits on energy from free sugars

03

68.2% of 18 to 24-year-old men consume sugar-sweetened beverages at least weekly

04

11.1% of Australians aged 55 to 64 years met physical activity guidelines

Intake of core foods

In 2017–18, 48.7% of Australians aged 18 years and over did not meet the guidelines for recommended daily serves of fruit, while 92.4% did not meet the guidelines for serves of vegetables. The overwhelming majority of adults (94.6%) failed to meet both guidelines.

Fruit and vegetable intake

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018.

Note: National Health and Medical Research Council's 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend a minimum number of serves of fruit and vegetables each day, depending on a person's age and sex, to ensure good nutrition and health.

Met guidelines Didn't meet

Food group consumption by serve

The dietary pattern of Australian adults changed between 1995 and 2011, with a shift toward relatively more meat and relatively less vegetables.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.012 - Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011-12. 2016. Table 2.1.
Note: Mean number of serves per 10,000 kilojoules, by food groups. Intake from non-discretionary sources. Based on self-reported food intake

Food and age group Serves per day: 1995 Serves per day: 2011-12 Recommended serves per day: Men Recommended serves per day: Women
Vegetables
19-50 years 3.87 3.51 6 5
51-70 years 5.13 4.14 5.5 5
71+ years 5.47 4.18 5 5
Fruit
19-50 years 1.68 1.74 2 2
51-70 years 2.22 1.99 2 2
71+ years 2.50 2.31 2 2
Milk, yoghurt, cheese & alternatives
19-50 years 1.62 1.76 2.5 2.5
51-70 years 1.70 1.72 2.5 4
71+ years 1.82 1.77 3.5 4
Lean meat & alternatives
19-50 years 1.69 2.24 3 2.5
51-70 years 1.78 2.46 2.5 2
71+ years 1.70 2.22 2.5 2
Grains
19-50 years 5.50 5.40 6 6
51-70 years 5.60 5.38 6 4
71+ years 5.93 5.48 4.5 3

Discretionary food intake

More than one-third (35%) of total daily energy in 2011-12 in the diets of Australian adults came from foods and beverages classified as discretionary (those not necessary for nutrients but high in saturated fat, salt or sugar).1 Key contributors to adults’ discretionary food intake include alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, cakes and muffins, chocolate, fried potato products, sweet biscuits and pastries.2

Percentage of total daily energy intake from discretionary food

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018.

Note: The Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary lists examples of discretionary choices as including: most sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts and pastries; processed meats and sausages; ice-cream; confectionery and chocolate; savoury pastries and pies; commercial burgers; commercially fried foods; potato chips, crisps and other fatty and/or salty snack foods; cream, butter and spreads which are high in saturated fats; sugar sweetened soft drinks and cordials, sports and energy drinks.

Total daily energy intake from discretionary foods

Free sugars above recommended intake

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. Supplementary table 19.

Intakes of free sugars ≥ 10% of energy intake

A large proportion of Australians exceed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limits on energy from free sugars. Free sugars are sugars added to foods by manufacturers or consumers, and those naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. The WHO recommends limiting energy from free sugars to less than 10% of daily energy intake (around 12 teaspoons).3 In 2011–12, the percentage of Australian adults exceeding the WHO recommendation for free sugar intake varied by age group.4

Average intake of added sugars

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.011 - Australian Health Survey: Consumption of added sugars, 2011-12. 2016. Table 1.1
Note: Converted from grams (divided by 4) and rounded to nearest teaspoon.

Age Men (teaspoons) Women (teaspoons)
19-30 years 19 13
31-50 years 15 11
51-70 years 12 9
71+ years 11 9

Men aged 19 to 30 years had the highest average intake of added sugars in 2011–12. Average intake of added sugars decreased with age, and men consumed more added sugars than women. Added sugars are those added to foods by manufacturers or consumers, excluding those naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018. Supplementary table 12.3

Note: Includes soft drink, cordials, sports drinks or caffeinated energy drinks. May include soft drinks in ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages. Excludes fruit juice, flavoured milk, ‘sugar free’ drinks or coffee/hot tea.

Men Women

More than one-third (36.2%) of Australian adults consumed sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as soft drinks, cordials and sports drinks at least weekly in 2017-18, and one in 11 adults (9.1%) consumed them daily. Adults living in the most disadvantaged areas were more likely to drink SSBs daily than adults living in the least disadvantaged areas. By age group, the highest consumers of SSBs were 18 to 24-year-olds, 61.8% of whom consumed SSBs at least once a week and 13.6% consumed them daily.5 This graph shows the percentage of Australians who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages at least weekly, 2017-18.

Physical activity

In 2017–18, only 15.4% of Australian adults met physical activity guidelines. Those meeting the recommendations varied by age group: 20.7% of Australians aged 18–24; 17.6% of those aged 25–34; 13.2% of those aged 35–44; 13.3% of those aged 45–54; and 11.1% of those aged 55–64.

Physical activity snapshot

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018, Table 13.3.

Note: For Australians aged 18-64, the recommendation is to be physically active for at least 150 minutes a week over five sessions.

Met guidelines

Physical activity over time

Chau J, Chey T, Burks-Young S, Engelen L, and Bauman A. Trends in prevalence of leisure time physical activity and inactivity: results from Australian National Health Surveys 1989 to 2011. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2017; 41(6):617-624.

Notes: Age standardised to 2011/12 sample. Sufficient = more than 150min/week moderate to vigorous physical activity.

15-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 74+

The proportion of Australian adults who were sufficiently physically active remained low between 1989 and 2011. Sufficient levels of physical activity were highest among Australians aged 15 to 24 years, and lowest in 2011 among those aged 55 to 64 years and 65 to 74 years.

Sedentary behaviour over time

Loyen A, Chey T, Engelen L, Bauman A, Lakerveld J, et al. Recent trends in population levels and correlates of occupational and leisure sitting time in full-time employed Australian adults. PLoS ONE, 2018; 13(4):e0195177.

>4 hours / workday occuptional sitting >4 hours / workday leisure sitting >7 hours / workday combined occuptional and leisure sitting

Sedentary behaviour (sitting, reclining or lying) has been associated with increased morbidity and mortality, and is increasingly recognised as an important health risk. A high proportion of Australian adults report sitting for more than seven hours at work and leisure, on a typical workday.

References

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.012 - Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011-12. 2016. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats
2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports
3. World Health Organization. Sugars intake for adults and children: guideline. Geneva, Switzerland 2015. https://www.who.int/nutrition/
4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nutrition across the life stages. Canberra, Australia 2018. Supplementary table 19. https://www.aihw.gov.au/report...
5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. 2018. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/