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Children's Nutrition Survey

Development And Testing Of Methods For Children's Nutrition Survey Complete

THE development and testing of the methods to be used in the Ministry of Health's national Children's Nutrition Survey is now complete.

A collaborative group of researchers from Auckland University, Massey University and Auckland University of Technology have been working on the project to finalise methods and questions to be used in the New Zealand Children's Nutrition Survey which is expected to begin mid-year. This process involved a preliminary survey of 333 children, aged between 1-14 years, randomly selected from Shannon, Fielding and Auckland.

Senior Advisor, Nutrition Epidemiology, Ms Carolyn Watts said the preliminary survey collected information on what children eat, their physical activity and whether they have access to enough healthy food for growth and development. Blood and urine samples were also taken to identify nutritional status for iron and iodine, respectively.

"The development work has been critical to ensure that we collect high quality information that will be useful for advising Government on relevant policies for children's health."

Ms Watts said the preliminary results of the development survey are very interesting.

"However, we cannot interpret these results as the true situation for all New Zealand children and we will have to wait for the results of the full survey before we know the national situation."

"However, the preliminary survey does indicate that two-thirds of the preschool children surveyed never have salt added to their food. Children under 5 years old eat more fruit and vegetables than the older children. For most children iron intake is within recommended levels, but calcium intake is not."

The preliminary survey also shows that over 80 per cent of children surveyed usually eat white bread, 88 per cent of 1-14 year-olds eat breakfast and about a quarter of the children surveyed watched more than four hours of television on an average week day.

Now that the development work is complete, the Ministry of Health is advertising for expressions of interest from research groups to conduct the full survey. An announcement about which research group has been selected is expected to by made in May.

The survey will begin mid-June 2001 and will involve a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 children aged 1-14 years from throughout NZ.


For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2483 or 025-277-5411 Internet address:

Questions and Answers

What is the Children's Nutrition Survey 2001/2002? It is the first ever national survey assessing the nutritional status of New Zealand children. The survey will cover a variety of issues to identify what children eat, their physical activity and whether they have access to enough healthy food for growth and development. As well as finding out what children eat, blood and urine samples will be taken as the status of some nutrients, like iron, zinc and iodine, is best assessed using body levels. The survey will also include questions on dental health.

How many children will be involved? The survey will involve about 5,000 participants ranging in age from 1 - 14 years. A special effort will be made to include Maori and Pacific children so that accurate information is obtained for these ethnic groups.

Over what period of time will it be conducted? The New Zealand Children's Nutrition Survey will be conducted over a 12 month period to include seasonal variations in children's eating habits.

When will the survey start? The survey is expected to start in the middle of this year. Results of the survey are expected in 2003.

Who will be conducting the survey? The Ministry of Health is currently advertising for groups interested in undertaking the full children's nutrition survey. An announcement about who will do this work is expected to be made in May 2001.

How will the information be collated? All the information about the child's diet, physical activity and dental health is entered directly into a lap-top computer by the interviewer. The direct data-entry system was developed specifically for the New Zealand Children's Nutrition Survey. The computer system improves accuracy by limiting differences in the way interviewers collect the information.

Will this survey become a regular event? It is intended that a national survey of children's nutrition will be conducted on a regular basis. Exactly how regular isn't known at this stage, but it could be undertaken every 10 years.

What will the information from this study be used for? The information collected from the New Zealand Children's Nutrition Survey will be used to assist with the development of Government policies relating to children's health.

Have there been any similar studies overseas? If so what have they found? Yes - Similar studies have been conducted in Australia, Canada, the USA and the United Kingdom. Key results from these studies indicate areas of concern, such as inadequate calcium intake, increasing prevalence of overweight and obese children, issues with access to enough healthy food and iron deficiency are similar between countries.

The UK recently completed a study of young people aged 4-18 years. They found that during the seven days when food was recorded that more than half the young people in the survey had not eaten any citrus fruits, any leafy green vegetables or any eggs. The majority of young people drank soft drinks and about one fifth took vitamin or mineral supplements.

How have you determined what questions will feature in the national survey? Development work and a preliminary survey to test the methods was conducted by a collaborative group of researchers from Auckland University, Massey University and Auckland University of Technology. The preliminary survey involved 333 children aged between 1 and 14 years. The group came from Shannon, Fielding and Auckland.

What were the findings of the preliminary survey? (Note that these results only refer to the children who took part in the development work. They cannot be generalised to all New Zealand children). Two-thirds of children under five years never have salt added to their food; Over 80 percent of children usually eat white bread; Standard (blue top) milk is the most popular milk with 80 per cent of under five year olds and 70 per cent of 5-14 year olds drinking it; Iron intake is within recommendations for most children, but calcium intake is lower than we would like; Children under five eat more vegetables than children over five. 50 per cent of children under 5 eat the recommended number of servings of vegetables each day; Children under five years eat more fruit. Three-quarters of children under five years eat the recommended two or more servings of fruit each day compared with only 40 per cent of over fives; 88 per cent of children from 1-14 years eat breakfast; Children of all ages average 10-11 hours of sleep at night; About one-quarter of the children surveyed watched more than four hours television on an average week day; about 20 percent of children take vitamin or mineral supplements.

What is the importance of Calcium? Calcium is essential for the development of healthy bones and teeth. The period between nine and 20 years is critical for achievement of peak bone mass and prevention of osteoporosis later in life. Milk and milk products are an excellent source of calcium. Overseas studies have shown that there is a trend away from milk drinks and more teenagers are drinking fizzy drinks and cordials, at a time when calcium intake is most important.

What is the importance of Zinc? Zinc is important for growth and development and maintaining body tissues. Animal foods including red meat, poultry and fish are rich in zinc. Other good sources are nuts, whole grains and legumes.

What is the importance of Iron? Iron is important in the development of red blood cells which carry oxygen. Iron is present in the diet in two forms: haem iron, which is readily absorbed is present in animal tissues, such as meat and poultry; non-haem iron is present in cereals, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fruits, however, it is less available for use than haem iron. There is evidence which suggests children with iron deficiency have difficulties learning and a lack of concentration.

What is the importance of Iodine? Iodine is important for normal development of the nervous system and for growth. In children, iodine deficiency typically results in goitre (enlargement of the thyroid gland), however, there is evidence suggesting that suboptimal iodine intakes may contribute to impaired intellectual performance and hearing loss in some children. Iodine is generally low in New Zealand soils therefore plant and animal foods grown here have low iodine levels. Marine foods, such as fish, shell fish and seaweed are good sources of iodine. Most table salt is fortified with iodine. There is a concern that iodine intake is dropping, and there have been suggestions that mild iodine deficiency may be re-emerging in New Zealand. The children's nutrition survey will confirm the iodine status of New Zealand's children.

What type of foods should children be eating? The Ministry of Health publishes Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children, aged 0-2 years and 2-12 years. These pamphlets are available from the public health service of your local hospital.

Children need to eat lots of different food to get energy, stay healthy and grow. Healthy children aged between 2-12 years need: Many different foods Enough food for activity and growth Plenty of suitable snacks Plenty to drink, especially milk and water Treat foods now and then.

Children need a variety of foods from the four food groups every day.

Vegetables and Fruit Vegetables and fruit have carbohydrates (sugar and starch), fibre, vitamins and minerals. Preschoolers - eat at least 2 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit every day. School children - eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit every day.

Breads and Cereals Breads, cereals, pasta and rice are high in carbohydrates and fibre. Preschoolers have small stomachs and cannot eat the same amount of fibre as older children or adults. Increase fibre gradually with a variety of vegetables, fruit, breads and cereals. Preschoolers - eat at least 4 servings every day. School children - eat at least 5 servings every day. Older children need at least 6 servings each day.

Milks and Dairy Products Children and preschoolers need milk and dairy products for protein and calcium. After 2 years of age gradually introduce reduced fat and low fat milk and dairy products. Preschoolers and School children - eat at least 2-3 servings each day.

Lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs and dried peas, beans and lentils These foods have protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron and zinc. Young children need iron - lean red meats, fish and chicken are good sources of iron. Preschoolers and school children - eat at least 1 serving every day.

What figures do we have in relation to obesity? At the moment we don't have any national figures on child obesity or overweight children. Smaller studies have shown that Pacific children and teenagers are heavier than European children.

Who should people turn to for further advice about the New Zealand Children's Nutrition Survey or children's nutrition in general? You should contact Selina Gentry or Carolyn Watts at the Ministry of Health. If you would like advice about nutrition you should contact a dietitian at your local hospital or public health unit.


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