Australia’s nutritional ‘waist’ land


vegetables, fruit, Sporting the most rapidly increasing waistlines of any developed nation, Australia is facing an obesity epidemic.

While it is a societal issue most prevalent among low income earners, it affects us all and the food and beverage industry must take some responsibility. Australians know they should be healthier but struggle to take the steps needed to address the problem.

A TNS study has found that more than 60 per cent of Australians are not satisfied with their physical well being, with 53 per cent more overweight than they would like to be.

Three quarters know that they should eat more healthy foods, however, more than half find it hard to do so.

In addition to this, 61 per cent say their budget impacts what they buy and serve, with purchase habits highly linked to stress.

Their problems are real, but why is it so hard for Aussies to buy, prepare and serve healthy meals when there is a wide choice on the supermarket shelves?

Barriers to healthy choices

It is not that consumers don’t want to be healthier, nor not know what to do, it’s just that many fail to follow through.

Despite high awareness of health risks and how to reduce them, consumers say they are unable to turn their health issues around for three key reasons: the stress of modern Western lifestyles, unattainable body image ideals encouraging them to give up trying, and access to and affordability of unhealthy foods, which make them the default choice.

These barriers actually present clear opportunities to innovate food and beverage options for the large number of Australians who know the risks of their unhealthy lifestyle, but find these barriers prevent them from achieving better health.

image-1The real cost per calorie

The fact that ‘empty calorie’ foods are cheaper is one of the largest issues. When comparing prices of healthy foods and diet patterns versus less healthy ones, the Harvard School of Public Health identified: “The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets… [and] healthier diet patterns—for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts—cost significantly more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats, and refined grains)”.

While this is a US-based study, the same trend can be observed in Australia.

Fresh produce takes more time to prepare and spoils more quickly, driving up costs, while processed foods high in sugar, preservatives, and saturated fats tend to be cheaper, making them the default choice for cash strapped families. These lower cost foods provide more calories, meaning we consume more calories than we need.

Let’s take an extreme example – a single serve tub of plain Greek yoghurt contains around 43 calories per dollar, whereas the archetypal nutritional yardstick, a typical chocolate bar, contains around 120 calories per dollar.

While chocolate bars appear to deliver better value than the yoghurt, this is not really the case. When we add up all the foods we are more likely to choose to eat each day, they dramatically over deliver in terms of calories that we actually need.

Supporting and motivating Australians

The food industry began to support healthy choices when it put low calorie, low fat, and calorie controlled ready meals on the shelves, and implemented new food labeling rules. But providing options for the majority who can’t will themselves to make healthy choices is the critical next step and the big opportunity.

Fifty eight per cent of Australians want more healthy options that still taste great. Fifty four per cent seek more easy to prepare healthy options in supermarkets, and more than half want these options to be ‘on the go’.

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Fifty nine per cent actually want ways to keep meals and snacks interesting. There are real opportunities to support this growing health challenged market by adding health benefits to those platforms that will continue to drive demand.

Rather than simply building from a platform of health, health benefits must become complementary to taste, convenience, and budget – the needs that drive consumer choice over and above health benefits.

Mark Hobart is an executive director at TNS Global, the world’s largest shopper insights agency. He advises clients on growth strategies throughout the innovation process, from identifying early stage growth opportunities through to successful launch.





  1. Lisa posted on July 22, 2014

    Your suggestion that the production and availability of heavily processed, low fat foods supports healthy choices... ha. Sugarfree, fat free are a massive part of the problem. We (collectively) need to eat more nutrient dense foods, including fats which satiate us, regulate blood sugar and ultimately stop us eating more and more rubbish. Switch to a diet of vegetables, lean protein and some fruit and nuts, excluding sugar and grains and you will be astounded by the difference in your mood, hunger levels and output. reply

    • Laura Vogt posted on July 22, 2014

      You are correct although you do get all the protein you need from fruit and veg. The point I was trying to make, which I totally forgot to mention at the end because I was so caught up in writing out my paragraphs was - why cheap out on your health anyway, just because "junk" may be cheaper, why would you choose to fuel your body with the wrong thing, even if it is cheaper, you're cheapening your own life, and you only get one life! I'm sure many people spend lots of money on investments such as homes etc, why not do the same for your body, why should your body and health be put on the back burner! Where there's a will there's always a way! reply

  2. Laura Vogt posted on July 22, 2014

    The main reason that this is "unattainable" for most people is that people have been wrongly educated about diet for many many decades. The "food pyramid" is wrong and has been created by the big money making meat and dairy corporations who treat sentient beings (animals) as products. We have been conditioned to eat their carcass, drink their secretions and parade around in their skins. Your diet should consist of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that the earth has provided and we should not take advantage of the weak by eating their severed flesh and milks nor should we be eating other factory man-made processed things that are so-called "food". It's not a privilege to be slim and healthy. Look at the Asian and Indian cultures (although they do eat meat, unfortunately) their base diet is carbs - low fat carbs - rice and/or potatoes, nuts, seeds and grains! They contain fibre the body needs to digest properly, keeping your metabolism fast and your belly flat. Meat and dairy digest extremely slowly in your intestine and clog up your system, and your body finds it hard to break down, leaving you looking and feeling sick and bloated and never satisfied. That aside, the reason why people find it unattainable to keep going with their "diets" is because they are eating LESS carbs with MORE fat! So naturally the body will crave the carbs because it thinks there's a food shortage and in turn will store fat and make you crave the most calorie dense meals - you CAN'T successfully go on a diet, eating lettuce and lemon water for the rest of your life, it just doesn't make sense. The body runs on carbs and the brain is fueled by natural sugars. Fruits and veggies are easily and quickly broken down by the body, which is why you need to eat MORE of them! But instead people are afraid of eating more of these things and are eating PROCESSED sugars and starches which your body DOESN'T need and (as well as hardening your arteries and taking a long time to digest) your body still keeps telling you it's hungry because you're not giving it the correct nutrients that it needs to run properly from day to day and that's how you gain weight and that's why it becomes out of control. Unfortunately things will take a long time to change and many people will not accept a vegan lifestyle because, as I stated before, we have been conditioned to think we need meat in our diet, when the fact is that we don't. There is ample, pure and substantial evidence to prove this. Yes, it may be radical and yes, it is a new way of thinking but if everybody saw this animal cruelty and realized the meat and dairy industry doesn't care about your health, they are just out to brainwash you and make money then the world of "dieting" would be a much simpler place! reply

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