Retired Australians, as well as those working in the fitness industry, have the healthiest diets of any profession, according to the national science body.
It seems having the time to prepare your meals leads to eating healthier if the results of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Healthy Diet Score Report are anything to go by.
The CSIRO surveyed more than 235,000 Australian adults online between 2015 and 2023, asking questions about the foods they consumed — including the quantity, quality and variety.
They then measured these answers against Australian dietary guidelines to generate a score out of 100.
The results showed an average score across all groups of 55, with retired Australians coming out as the healthiest group at 59.2. Rounding out the top five healthiest eating occupations were personal trainers, healthcare workers, researchers and homemakers.
At the other end of the scale, unemployed people were eating the unhealthiest meals, with an average diet score of 51.2. Joining them at the bottom were those working in logistics, construction, restaurant/food service and manufacturing.
Only 20 per cent of those surveyed were eating the recommended amount of vegetables, and only two out of five reported always eating three or more types of vegetable during their main meal.
We love our sweets too, with Aussies averaging around 28 serves per week of ‘discretionary foods’, which include chocolate, cakes, alcohol, biscuits, confectionary and most takeaway foods.
The results show time and money are huge factors in a person’s likelihood of eating healthy meals. Having the time and the resources to prepare and cook fresh vegetables and other produce provides an obvious advantage in nutrition.
In contrast, most instant or low-preparation foods are high in fat, salt and sugar and are much more likely to be eaten by time-pressed individuals working in service industries.
CSIRO research scientist Dr Gilly Hendrie told SBS News there were some surprises in the results.
“It was interesting that some occupations that we may think of as being health-orientated, like beauty and fashion, were among those with the lowest score, along with construction workers, those working in management, science and finance,” she said.
“Generally, older Australians scored better than younger Australians, as well.”
Rather than age, this is more likely tied to income, with older Australians generally able to purchase more and better-quality foods.
The cost-of-living crisis is also having an impact on the quality of meals we’re eating.
Dr Rebecca Lindberg, research fellow at Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, says cost is one of the main drivers of what people eat. And right now, food costs are out of control.
“The Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that we’ve had a really rough 12 months, and for really essential products like dairy, as well as breads and cereals and fruit and veggies, Aussies have never paid more in modern history,” she says.
“The proportion that households need to spend on eating a diet that’s consistent with the Australian dietary guidelines is much greater.
“That’s relative; if you’re on a low income, if you’re on unemployment benefits, if you’re on a single parent allowance, it’s costing more to eat consistent with those dietary guidelines than it is if you’re on a middle income or a higher income bracket.”
Do you eat lots of fruits and vegetables? How many ‘discretionary’ foods do you eat each week? Let us know in the comments section below.
Also read: Four nutrition myths you need to stop believing