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Kiwi children’s nutrition survey a first for NZ

7 December 2001 Media Statement

Kiwi children’s nutrition survey a first for New Zealand

Health Minister Annette King today announced the launch of New Zealand's first national survey of school-aged children's nutrition.

The survey will look at five to 14-year-old children's food and nutrient intakes. Researchers will collect information during the next school year from February to November 2002, with the results analysed and published in the final report in late 2003.

"People worry about whether New Zealand children eat a healthy diet or if they consume too many sugary and high-fat foods. The truth is that we don't know for sure.

"That is why the Ministry of Health is funding the first ever national Children's Nutrition Survey. The survey will be comprehensive and nationally representative,” Mrs King said.

Measuring children's heights and weights will give the Ministry baseline information about how many New Zealand children are overweight or obese.

The survey will also 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. Blood and urine samples will be taken as the levels of some nutrients, such as iron, zinc and iodine, are best assessed this way. The survey will also include questions on dental health.

The information gained from the $4 million survey will provide valuable baseline information for everyone wanting to improve children's health, Mrs King said.

"This is an important first for New Zealand children but its success depends on the number of children participating. So I'd urge parents, schools and children to support the survey."

It is important that all children participate in the survey, including Maori and Pacific. Researchers are hoping that altogether more than 3000 children from throughout New Zealand will participate in the survey.

The Ministry of Education is assisting the survey researchers to select a nationally representative sample of schools, but it’s up to individual schools to decide whether they will take part.

UniServices of Auckland University is being contracted by the Ministry of Health to conduct the survey, which will also involve Massey, Auckland and Otago universities.
The survey is part of a national health survey programme being undertaken by the Ministry of Health. There have already been several surveys in the past, including the 1997 National Nutrition Survey and the New Zealand Health Surveys.

Similar child nutrition surveys have been carried out recently in Australia, the United States and United Kingdom, but it's a first for New Zealand.


Questions and Answers

Over what period of time will the survey be conducted?
The New Zealand Children's Nutrition Survey will be conducted over 10 months to include seasonal variations in children's eating habits. This period covers the school year.

How will the information be collated?
Information from the interview about the child's diet, physical activity and dental health will be entered directly into a laptop 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 United Kingdom recently completed a study of young people aged four to 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 were conducted by a collaborative group of researchers from Auckland University, Massey University and Auckland University of Technology. The preliminary survey involved 333 children. The group came from Shannon, Feilding 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 percent of children under five 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 one to 14 years eat breakfast; Children of all ages average 10 to 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 type of foods should children be eating?
The Ministry of Health publishes Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children, aged nought to two years and two to 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 two to 12 years need: Many different foods, enough food for activity and growth, plenty of suitable snacks, plenty to drink, especially milk and water, and treat foods now and then.
Preschoolers need: at least two servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. School children need: at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. 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 need to eat at least four servings every day. School children need to eat at least five servings every day. Older children need at least six servings each day.
Children and preschoolers need milk and dairy products for protein and calcium. After two years of age gradually introduce reduced fat and low fat milk and dairy products. Preschoolers and School children need to eat at least two to three servings each day.
Lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs and dried peas, beans and lentils 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 need to eat at least one 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.

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