4364.0.55.007 - Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12  
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The related risk factors of diet and overweight and obesity contribute a high proportion of disease burden in Australia, manifesting particularly in cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.1 In 2011-12, 63% of adults and 25% of children in Australia were overweight or obese, with these rates having risen in recent decades.2 In addition to regular physical activity, following eating patterns which can provide adequate nutrient intakes whilst not exceeding energy requirements are seen as key to achieving and maintaining healthy body weight. In order to meet nutrient requirements within limited energy intakes, it is suggested that consumption of discretionary (energy dense, nutrient poor) food be reduced.3


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 and other ice confections; confectionary 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 and alcoholic drinks". Based on these definitions and the supporting documents which underpin the Australian Dietary Guidelines, foods reported within the NNPAS have been categorised as discretionary or non-discretionary. See User Guide section Discretionary Foods for more information.


The NNPAS (as with all representative dietary surveys) is subject to under-reporting. That is, a tendency for respondents to either change their behaviour or misrepresent their consumption (whether consciously or sub-consciously) to report a lower energy or food intake. Given the association of under-reporting with overweight/obesity and consciousness of socially acceptable/desirable dietary patterns, discretionary foods would be expected to be more likely to be under-reported than non-discretionary foods. See Users' Guide section Under-reporting in Nutrition Surveys for more information.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines3 states discretionary foods are: “foods and drinks not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs, but that may add variety. However, many of these are high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/or alcohol, and are therefore described as energy dense. They can be included sometimes in small amounts by those who are physically active, but are not a necessary part of the diet.”

On average, just over one-third (35%) of total daily energy reported as consumed was from 'discretionary foods'. The proportion of energy from discretionary foods was lowest among the 2-3 year old children (30%) and highest among the 14-18 year olds (41%). The proportion of energy from discretionary foods tended to decrease in age groups from 19-30 years and older, however females had significantly lower proportions of consumption than males from 31-50 years to 71 years and over see Table 9.1.

The particular food groups contributing most to the energy from discretionary foods reported were: Alcoholic beverages (4.8% of energy), Cakes, muffins scones and cake-type desserts (3.4%), Confectionery and cereal/nut/fruit/seed bars (2.8%), Pastries (2.6%), Sweet biscuits and Savoury biscuits (2.5%) and Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters (1.9%). These were followed by smaller proportions of energy from a range of other discretionary foods including Potatoes (as chips/fries etc) (1.7%), Snack foods (1.5%), Frozen milk products (1.5%) and Sugar, honey and syrups (1.3%).

The proportion of energy contributed by particular discretionary foods varied with age. For example, the largest discretionary food contributor to the 2-3 year olds energy was Biscuits (4.8%), while for 4-8 and 9-13 year olds it was Cakes, muffins, scones and cake-type desserts (4.8% and 4.6% respectively). Among the 14-18 year olds it was Confectionery and cereal/nut/fruit/seed bars and Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters (3.7% and 3.6% respectively). In all older age groups, alcoholic drinks formed the largest source of energy from discretionary foods, with 6.0% of energy consumed by people aged 19 years and over coming from Alcoholic beverages see Table 9.1.

Graph Image for Persons aged 2 years and over - Proportion of total energy intake from discretionary foods, 2011-12

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Food and Nutrients, 2011-12


  1. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 <http://www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/sites/default/files/country-profiles/GBD%20Country%20Report%20-%20Australia.pdf >, viewed 20 April 2014.Back
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013, Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011-2012, cat. no. 4364.0.55.003, < https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/33C64022ABB5ECD5CA257B8200179437?opendocument>, viewed 20 April 2014. Back
  3. National Health and Medical Research Council 2013, Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council, < https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/n55_australian_dietary_guidelines_130530.pdf> Back