More nutrients, less energy needed to tackle childhood obesity: Australian analysis

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Australian children are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables. ©iStock
Australian children are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables. ©iStock

Related tags Nutrition

Children and teenagers should consume more nutrient-rich core foods and less energy-rich products, argues a study led by the University of Newcastle in Australia, which also found that portion sizes of the latter are rising in tandem with gains in BMI.

From 2011 to 2012, approximately 26% of Australians aged between five and 17 years old were reported to be overweight or obese. The availability of larger food portion sizes and the subsequent increases in energy intake were said to be the main culprits behind the rise in the prevalence of obesity among the country’s youth.

Based on this, researchers conducted a time-series analysis to investigate if selected food portion sizes for Australian children aged two to 16 years old had changed between 2007 and 2011 to 2012.

They took their data from two nationally representative cross-sectional surveys of 7,349 Australian children and adolescents: the 1995 — 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (ANCNPAS) and the 2011 — 2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Health Survey (NNPAS).

More options, more intake

The researchers compared portion size data from 24-hour recalls in the surveys, and found that median portion sizes had indeed changed significantly in 23% of the food items, with increases in 15% and decreases in 8%.

It was also observed that portion sizes differed according to sex, age and food group. The changes were especially significant for meat-based food items and energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods, as well as breads, cereals, and certain fruits and vegetables.

While the portion sizes of meat-based dishes in general had grown, the portion sizes of many vegetables and fruits had remained similar.

The subjects’ average fruit and vegetable portion sizes consistently fell short of the respective 150g and 75g serving sizes recommended in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating​, but the portion sizes of energy-rich and nutrient-poor foods had increased.

The analysis stated that “the disparity between portion size of many meat-based main meal items and recommended daily intake warrants further evaluation, especially for young children” ​between the ages of four and seven, since dietary patterns have been reported to lead from childhood to adulthood.

Though meat is a crucial source of iron, protein (for adults), vitamin B12, and zinc, excessive intake is associated with higher risk of conditions like breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

As such, the analysis said the “findings suggest approaches to increasing consumption of nutrient-dense core foods and reducing energy-dense, nutrient-poor food items in children are warranted”​.

Strategising weight loss

The analysis found that in all the age groups, “BMI status differed significantly between 2007 and 2011 to 2012, with a lower proportion being of normal weight in 2011 to 2012”​.

It added that “recent analyses have predicted a continued rise in population BMI, resulting in one-third of children and adolescents aged between five and 19 years being overweight or obese by 2025”​.

Proportional downsizing of palatable energy-dense foods was therefore recommended, as it could lead to a preference for smaller portion sizes..

The analysis concluded: “The current findings support the need for strategies to increase intakes of nutrient-dense core foods and reduce energy-dense, nutrient-poor food items in children. Potential relationships between portion size and weight status in children in future longitudinal or intervention studies is also warranted”​.


Source: Children

“Trends in Food and Beverage Portion Sizes in Australian Children; a Time-Series Analysis Comparing 2007 and 2011–2012 National Data”

Authors: Daphne van der Bend, et al.

Related news

Follow us


View more


Nutra Champions Podcast

Nutra Champions Podcast