How healthy are we? New survey reveals gap in Aussies’ knowledge of health consequences of poor diet and physical inactivity


A new LiveLighter survey[1] of more than 2,000 Australians aged 18-55 has revealed most Aussies give themselves top marks when it comes to their health but fail to meet national nutrition and physical activity recommendations.

Only one in ten of those surveyed meet the recommended intake of vegetables, half met the recommendations for fruit and less than half did enough physical activity, putting them at risk of poor health in the future.

Despite these poor results three quarters of Australians reported their current health as good, very good or excellent. Only a quarter of Australians rated their health as fair or poor.

These findings from the annual Shape of Australia survey will be presented today at the Cancer Council’s Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference in Perth.

Approximately 7,000 cancers in Australia each year are linked to poor diet, and 1,800 cancers are linked to insufficient physical activity[2].

Cancer Council Victoria’s Healthy Lifestyles Campaign Manager, Alison McAleese, said the findings demonstrate a need for further investment in public health education campaigns to protect Australians against chronic disease and reduce their cancer risk.

“It’s worrying to see that many Australians are undervaluing the importance of fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity and further, that they have a distorted perception of their own health.”

 “When around a third of cancers in Australia can be prevented, it’s vital that we work hard to help people understand the link between diet, exercise and cancer and encourage them to take steps to reduce their risk,” Ms McAleese said.

Cancer Council WA’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager and Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, Steve Pratt said that Australians continue to face barriers to maintaining a healthy diet.

“It’s not surprising people aren’t getting their two serves of fruit and five serves of veg each day. We are constantly bombarded with advertising and promotions for unhealthy foods. It’s often easier to find a packet of chips than an apple.” 

“Trying to navigate the supermarket to make the healthy choice is harder than ever. Companies cover their packaging with health claims to make their products sound healthier and deciphering food labels can often feel like reading a foreign language.”

 “We need proper investment in public education campaigns to cut through the marketing spin and provide people with the resources to make healthier choices.”

The Opposition has already announced a $39 million investment to support running LiveLighter as the national anti-obesity campaign over three years.

 “The evidence is clear, if you empower people with information, they are able to make healthier decisions for themselves,” Mr Pratt said.

With physical inactivity attributed to 6.4% of Australia’s cancer burden[3], LiveLighter hopes the research will prompt people to make small changes to their diet and exercise regime to reduce their cancer risk.

“Many Aussies continue to fall short of the minimum physical activity guideline of 150 minutes a week. When it comes to exercise, you don’t have to become an Olympic athlete overnight. Making small changes like getting off public transport a stop early or taking the stairs have a significant impact on your overall health as well as your cancer risk.”

About the Behavioural Research in Cancer Control conference:

The Behavioural Research in Cancer Control conference is supported by Cancer Council Australia and will be hosted by Cancer Council WA. It runs from May 15 to 17. It brings together clinicians and researchers from across Australia to present the latest research on policies and programs that can ultimately decrease the burden of cancer.

[1] LiveLighter’s annual Shape of Australia survey analysed the health, nutrition and physical activity behaviours of more than 2,000 Australians aged 18-55.
[2] Whiteman, D.C., Webb, P.M., Green, A.C., Neale, R.E., Fritschi, L., Bain, C.J., … & Pandeya, N., 2015, ‘Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to modifiable factors: summary and conclusions’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 477–484.
[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Burden of cancer in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011, June 2017