National Women's Health Policy

Unhealthy eating

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Health risks related to unhealthy eating include over-consumption, lack of fruit and vegetables, and saturated fat intake. In 2003, 2.1 per cent of Australia’s total burden of disease and injury was attributed to low fruit and vegetable consumption.102 Eating sufficient fruit and vegetables can help prevent cancer, ischaemic heart disease and—to a lesser extent—stroke.103

The 2004–05 National Health Survey found that females are more likely to adopt healthy dietary behaviour than males, and eat higher levels of fruit and vegetables.104 However, levels are still low, with just 16 per cent of females aged 12 years and over eating the recommended daily intake of five or more serves of vegetables.105 Fruit consumption is higher, with 60 per cent of females consuming the recommended daily intake of two or more serves of fruit.106 Fruit and vegetable consumption also differs by age, with young people consuming less than older adults.107 Lower rates of consumption are also reported for people of lower socioeconomic status.108

For women of low socioeconomic status, healthy eating options are often less available and sometimes less affordable. At least one-third of welfare-dependent family weekly income is needed to be allocated to food in order to eat according to public health recommendations.109 However, access to unhealthy food options are readily available with Australian studies showing that poorer suburbs have much higher concentrations of alcohol and fast food outlets than more affluent areas.110

Australians living outside major cities were less likely than their major city counterparts to report consuming low fat or skim milk, the recommended two serves of fruit per day or five or more serves of vegetables per day.111 Females in regional and remote areas were also 1.3 times as likely to report food insecurity than those living in major cities. 112

The rates of fruit and vegetable consumption are lower among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In non-remote areas, 12 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women reported eating the recommended daily intake of vegetables and 44 per cent the recommended daily intake of fruit.113

Time scarcity affects women’s capacity to maintain healthy eating practices. Many Australians have knowledge about how to eat healthily, but lack the time to follow this advice.114 115 116 117