Characteristics of the community-level diet of Aboriginal people in remote northern Australia

Julie K Brimblecombe, Megan M Ferguson, Selma C Liberato and Kerin O’Dea
Med J Aust 2013; 198 (7): 380-384. || doi: 10.5694/mja12.11407


Objective: To describe the nutritional quality of community-level diets in remote northern Australian communities.

Design, setting and participants: A multisite 12-month assessment (July 2010 to June 2011) of community-level diet in three remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, linking data from food outlets and food services to the Australian Food and Nutrient Database.

Main outcome measures: Contribution of food groups to total food expenditure; macronutrient contribution to energy and nutrient density relative to requirements; and food sources of key nutrients.

Results: One-quarter (24.8%; SD, 1.4%) of total food expenditure was on non-alcoholic beverages; 15.6% (SD, 1.2%) was on sugar-sweetened drinks. 2.2% (SD, 0.2%) was spent on fruit and 5.4% (SD, 0.4%) on vegetables. Sugars contributed 25.7%–34.3% of dietary energy, 71% of which was table sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages. Dietary protein contributed 12.5%–14.1% of energy, lower than the recommended 15%–25% optimum. Furthermore, white bread was a major source of energy and most nutrients in all three communities.

Conclusion: Very poor dietary quality continues to be a characteristic of remote Aboriginal community nutrition profiles since the earliest studies almost three decades ago. Significant proportions of key nutrients are provided from poor-quality nutrient-fortified processed foods. Further evidence regarding the impact of the cost of food on food purchasing in this context is urgently needed and should include cost–benefit analysis of improved dietary intake on health outcomes.

  • Julie K Brimblecombe1,2
  • Megan M Ferguson1,1,2
  • Selma C Liberato1,2
  • Kerin O’Dea3,4

  • 1 Wellbeing and Preventable Chronic Disease, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, NT.
  • 2 Institute of Advanced Studies, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT.
  • 3 School of Population Health, Division of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA.
  • 4 Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, NT.


We acknowledge the contribution of Adam Barnes, Research Officer, Menzies School of Health Research, and Susannah Summons (Public Health Nutritionist/Dietitian) for assisting with data processing, and Robyn Liddle, Menzies School of Health Research, for expert advice on database design and application. We thank the participating communities, stores, and organisations for supporting the study.

The Cost of Dietary Improvement project was funded through the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Equity Council. Julie Brimblecombe was funded by a National Health and Medical Research Early Career Fellowship (545253).

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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