Indigenous Australians under-reporting the amount of ‘unhealthy foods’ they consume

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Self-reported intakes of 'unhealthy foods' were significantly lower than that purchased. ©iStock
Self-reported intakes of 'unhealthy foods' were significantly lower than that purchased. ©iStock

Related tags: Nutrition

There is an urgent need to better track community nutrition to support policymakers in improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities.

According to research from Menzies School of Health Research, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Hea​lth​, poor diet is a major contributor to the disproportionate burden of preventable illness and chronic disease experienced by Indigenous Australians.

However, there are numerous challenges when trying to accurately record peoples’ consumption patterns.

Menzies research fellow and lead author, Dr Emma McMahon said: “Current studies do not give us the whole picture as people generally report eating less food because they don’t remember everything they have eaten or they underestimate the amount they have eaten, and people report eating more healthier foods and less unhealthy foods than they actually consume.”

In the 2012-2013 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey  (NATSINPAS), energy intake was 25%-30% lower than expected, suggesting underreporting and reporting bias.

“We compared the results from the very remote sample of the NATSNIPAS to data of all foods and drinks purchases over one year from 20 very remote Indigenous communities (10 per cent of the very remote Indigenous Australian population). Both datasets incorporated large samples of Indigenous Australians who live very remotely, providing a unique opportunity to compare the food and nutrition estimates,” ​she said.

Consistent findings

“We found that reported intake of less healthy foods tended to be lower and healthy foods tended to be higher in the self-reported data than the sales data. For example sales of table sugar, soft drinks, sweet biscuits, processed meats and cordials were higher than reported while fruit, vegetables, fish, eggs and meat were lower.

The paper reveals that self-reported intakes of sugar, cereal products/dishes, beverages, fats/oils, milk products/dishes and confectionery were significantly lower than that purchased, while intakes of meat, vegetables, cereal-based dishes, fish, fruit and eggs were significantly higher.

She added, these findings are consistent with the types of foods and drinks researchers would expect to be under and over-reported.

“We are currently investigating options to support decision makers track community nutrition over time using food and beverage data in improving the health of their communities,”​ said Dr McMahon.

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