Patterns of discretionary food intake among Australian children and their association with socio-demographic, lifestyle, and adiposity measures

Flavia Fayet-Moore, Andrew McConnell, Kate Tuck, Peter Petocz, Tim Cassettari, Hania Rahimi-Ardabili, Michelle Blumfield, Skye Marshall

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7 Citations (Scopus)
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Australian children consume 35% of energy from discretionary food and beverages which increases their risk of non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes. Despite this concerning statistic, broad analysis of the profile of discretionary food intake has not been fully undertaken. This study asks: what is the discretionary food and beverage intake profile, contribution to nutrient intakes, and associations with demographic and health characteristics?

Cross-sectional data from the 2011–12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (n = 2812, 2–18 years) were used to profile discretionary food consumption. Dietary intake was assessed by 24-h recall. General linear models tested the difference in respondent characteristics by age group, sex, and quartiles of discretionary food energy contribution.

Ninety-nine percent of respondents consumed discretionary foods, 74% exceeded the maximum discretionary food recommended serves. Among 10 eating occasions available to select: snack, dinner, lunch and morning tea appeared to contribute 76% of discretionary food energy, with snack and dinner contributing 24% each. Age and frequency of discretionary food consumption were positively associated with energy intake from discretionary foods (p < 0.001); while sex, socio-economic status, physical activity and body composition had no association. High discretionary food consumers chose specific discretionary food items in a large quantity (1.0–3.5-serves/discretionary food) compared to low discretionary food consumers (0.4–1.4-serves/discretionary food).

Nearly all Australian children and adolescents consumed discretionary food daily. No demographic or anthropometric characteristics beyond increasing age were associated with higher discretionary food. Targeted public health policy and community interventions are required to focus on addressing the largest contributors to discretionary food intake in terms of equivalent serve sizes, popularity, and eating occasion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-635
Number of pages13
JournalNutrition and Dietetics
Issue number5
Early online date16 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


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