‘We don’t have good information on what we’re eating’: Call for comprehensive national nutrition survey

File / Whakaata Māori

A comprehensive national nutrition survey is being called for by researchers at Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland who say New Zealand lacks accurate up-to-date information on what we are eating.

As a result, they suggest, there is a knowledge gap around dietary-related policies and plans that would help reduce chronic disease.

These remarks follow the release of research by a University of Auckland-led study on Wednesday that revealed that the accurate percentage of vegetarians in New Zealand is more likely to be two percent than the 20 percent previously cited in market research.

The study used data from recent NZ Health Surveys, capturing answers from about 20,000 Kiwis, but unlike earlier surveys asked whether they excluded meat and dairy.

“There has been some market research that has asked whether people identify as being a ‘vegetarian’, which is likely to overestimate the proportion of people who exclude all meat,” says lead author Dr Kathryn Bradbury from the university’s School of Population Health.

Less than one percent of New Zealanders are estimated to be vegan, also excluding dairy.

“This is important because government guidelines recommend a plant-based diet, with moderate amounts of animal-sourced foods.”

Dr Bradbury says a comprehensive national nutrition survey would provide insight into Kiwi’s compliance with dietary guidelines.

“Although our study estimated the proportion of New Zealanders who never eat meat and dairy products, we are calling for a comprehensive national nutrition survey, which would give us information on the actual amount of red meat and other animal-source foods that the New Zealand population currently consumes.

“We could then see the extent to which New Zealanders are meeting our dietary guidelines.”

She says New Zealand lacks good information about our eating habits.

“What we eat is one of the major risk factors for chronic disease in NZ, and we don’t have good up-to-date information on what we are eating.

“So we don’t know which dietary-related policies we should implement and whether any policies we have or are planning would help to reduce chronic disease in our population.”