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Survey probes link between diet and health

5 November 2008

Media Release

Survey probes link between diet and health

The Ministry of Health recently launched a nationwide survey to find out what adult New Zealanders aged 15 years and over are eating and assess how eating habits and diet affect health.

The 2008/09 NZ Adult Nutrition Survey (NZANS) will collect information from about 5700 adults throughout the country. Data collection will take a year, and a report on the survey results will be published in late 2010.

“Our health has a lot to do with what we eat. This survey will show what New Zealanders are usually eating and how nutritional factors impact on our health,” explained Dr Fran McGrath, Deputy Director of Public Health.

“Survey findings will also help us forecast nutrition-related conditions such as heart disease and diabetes and the likely economic costs of these diseases,” she added.

Survey participants will be asked about all foods and drinks consumed in the previous 24 hours and their usual dietary habits, including use of dietary supplements.

Participants will also be asked about other factors that affect health such as smoking. They will have their blood pressure, height, weight and waist circumference measured. In addition, blood and urine samples will be taken to measure levels of, for example, cholesterol and iodine.

“The health benefits of good nutrition, physical activity and a healthy body weight have been known for a long time. Results of this survey will help assess in what ways initiatives such as the Healthy Eating-Healthy Action programme are making a difference,”according to Dr McGrath.

“Information from the survey will be used to develop programmes that make healthy choices easier. It will also be used to develop health policy and to update food and nutrition guidelines. Health inequalities related to age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status can also be accurately monitored.”

The 2008/09 NZANS is the fourth national nutrition survey of adults conducted since 1977. The series of surveys allow trends in diet and nutrition to be monitored over time. Progress in nutrition-related health and inequalities amongst major ethnic groups can also be assessed. These surveys are carried out at approximately 10-year intervals.

Results of the 1997 National Nutrition Survey of adults was used in a study that estimated the burden of disease associated with nutrition. Survey findings also informed the development of the Healthy Eating- Healthy Action strategy and implementation plan.

The Ministry of Health has contracted CBG Health Research to recruit people to participate in the 2008/09 NZANS. The University of Otago developed the diet recall programme being used in the survey. The University has also trained field staff to interview people and will work with the Ministry of Health on data analysis and interpretation.

More information on the NZANS is available on

Questions and Answers:

1. What information will be collected?

The survey will ask participants about their food and nutrient intake. Questions from the survey include the following

* On average, how many servings of fruit do you eat per day?

* What type of milk do you drink most of?

* Did you take any supplements at any time during the last 12 months?

* Have you ever been told by a doctor that you have a high blood cholesterol level?

2. How will the survey be undertaken?

The survey consists of two parts – an interview and the collection of blood and urine samples.

During the interview, the participant will be asked about all foods and beverages consumed, use of dietary supplements, usual dietary habits and general health. As part of the interview, the participant’s blood pressure, height, weight and waist circumference will be measured.

After the interview, the participant will be asked if they are willing to give blood and urine samples. The tests are not a medical diagnosis, but the survey participant will be advised if the results are outside normal levels. They may then wish to discuss the results with their doctor or primary health care provider.

3. What will the blood and urine samples be used for?

The blood and urine samples will be tested for a range of nutritional measures.

* The blood samples will be used to measure the participant's levels of cholesterol, folate and a marker of their average blood glucose level. Iron status will be assessed by measures which include levels of hemoglobin and ferritin.

* The urine sample will be used to measure the participant's levels of iodine and sodium.

4. Why is the survey being undertaken?

The 2008/09 NZANS is the fourth nationwide population-based nutrition survey of adults.

Information from the survey will be used by the Ministry of Health to:

* monitor the food and nutrient intake and nutritional status of New Zealanders

* develop food and nutrition guidelines

* develop health policy

* guide how the Government and other organisations promote good nutrition and healthy lifestyles in New Zealand.

5. How will the privacy of survey participants be protected?

The information provided to the interviewer is confidential and protected by the Privacy Act 1993. This means that the information a participant has provided will not be discussed or given to anyone else outside the research team. The answers given by a participant will be combined with other people’s answers to create group statistics. No identifiable information will be given to other government departments or researchers.

Also, none of the tests on the blood and urine samples collected will use DNA from those samples. The samples will not be sent overseas.

6. How was information from previous nutrition surveys used?

Previous nutrition surveys have been used to guide policy development. For example, data from the 1997 Adult Nutrition Survey was used in a study that estimated the burden of disease in New Zealand due to nutrition. The study found that as many as 11,000 deaths in 1997 may have been due to nutrition and physical activity-related factors. The results of the study also informed the Healthy Eating- Healthy Action strategy and implementation plan.


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