The Australian Health Survey (AHS)

Providing the first snapshot of our nation’s health in almost 20 years, the Australian Health Survey (AHS) is the largest, most comprehensive health survey ever conducted in Australia. And for the first time includes not only diet and activity measures (the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey [NNPAS]), but biomedical measures, which will reveal even more about our nutritional status and chronic disease markers (the National Health Measures Survey [NHMS]).

The last National Nutrition Survey (NNS) was conducted in 1995. Since then, the only nationally representative nutrition data was obtained from the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (ANCNPAS), which was conducted in children aged 2- to 16-years. Clearly, results of this survey are long overdue and much anticipated. And we won’t have to wait much longer as the top-line results are due for release Friday 9th May. The ABS has suggested these will parallel those presented in 1995. For example, average total energy and nutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrate and alcohol) intakes per day and the contribution to each based on the food groups outlined in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. We’ll want to talk about it so keep an eye out for our blog summarising the results.

How will the data be useful?
The benefits of these results are far-reaching. Nationally, they will help inform food and nutrition policy initiatives and public health education. Secondary analyses of the data can provide key insight into how different foods and beverages fit into the diets of Australian adults and children and their contribution to the diet over time. This is really important for industry to guide product innovation and transformation strategies and for proactive healthcare professional and consumer communications. Here is just a taste of the different types of information that can be determined through secondary analyses:

Consumption patterns – To answer questions like how much, how many times per day and when and where consumers are eating specific foods and beverages.

Consumer insights – To paint a picture of the types of consumers who are low, medium and high consumers of a particular food or beverage, and how it fits in with their lifestyle etc.

Diet and nutrient analyses – To understand how a food or beverage or category fits within the diets of consumers (e.g. rice, lean meat or savoury snack) and their contribution to nutrient intake.

Consumption trends – Enabling a comparison of trends over the past 20-years.

Importantly, comparing results from the nutrition survey with the Australian Dietary Guidelines will provide valuable insight into how we are meeting these guidelines and what to focus on e.g. address specific nutrient deficits or excesses.

Important considerations

It is important to acknowledge that there are limitations to the conclusions that can be drawn when making comparisons across surveys. For example, seasonal differences in the collection of the dietary recalls across surveys may or may not influence consumption patterns (e.g. data for the current survey were collected in autumn 2012, for the 2007 survey from spring through winter, and in 1995 in summer). And those in industry would be well aware that consumption patterns can be influenced over high-volume periods – how many hot cross buns and chocolate eggs did you enjoy this Easter?

Further, our food supply has changed significantly across this time period. Not only have there been changes in the amount of fat, sugar and salt in our foods and beverages, we have been exposed to and embraced more international flavours and have become a lot more passionate about where our food comes from and the importance of sustainability. These, among other, factors will influence the comparability of results.

At Appetite we understand how to leverage data to support innovation, reformulation and communication strategies. The findings from the nutrition survey offer an exciting opportunity to help shape product development and communications to consumers and healthcare professionals for years to come.