Almost all Kiwi preschoolers eating junk food

A study of thousands of Kiwi under-fives finds almost all eating hot chips and other fatty foods and insufficient fruit and veges.

Professor Clare Wall.
Professor Clare Wall would like policies and regulation to limit junk food advertising aimed at children.

The most comprehensive study into the diets of New Zealand pre-schoolers has found that the majority of youngsters are not eating enough fruit and vegetables and too many have diets that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat, which researchers say can set up long term patterns of poor nutrition.

The new research, led by Dr Teresa Gontijo de Castro, Prof Clare Wall and Dr Sarah Gerritsen from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and published in the Journal of Maternal and Child Nutrition, used information collected from thousands of children in the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study of child development when they were two and four years of age.

“Nutrition is critically important for healthy development, growth and immunity both in the preschool years, but also as children continue to grow and develop. Pre-school nutrition is particularly important as it is a time where long term food preferences and eating habits are formed that persist throughout a person’s life which can influence health outcomes,” said Professor Clare Wall, Head of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Auckland.  

The study found that 61 percent of two-year-olds were not having enough vegetables and 45 percent not enough fruit (as recommended by national guidelines). Vegetable and fruit intake did improve by four-and-half years of age but remained low with 48 percent not eating enough vegetables and 36 percent not having the recommended amount of fruit.  

“The other finding was the number of children drinking sugary drinks and eating foods high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat,” said Professor Wall.

The research showed that nearly all the children in the study had been fed hot chips, battered foods and takeaways from fast-food outlets in the four weeks prior to the information being collected, and nearly half of two-year-olds and 42 percent of four-year-olds were having at least one serving of sugary drink per week.

The study also highlighted inequalities in dietary quality, with children from lower socioeconomic households even less likely to meet healthy eating guidelines. The researchers say more needs to be done to make healthy food accessible to all families in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“The period from conception to five years of age is a highly sensitive window for strategies to encourage healthy eating and prevent childhood obesity and other health conditions associated with poor nutrition. It needs to be easier and more affordable for busy families to access fresh produce and wholegrain products which are high in fibre.” said Professor Wall.

“Products which are high in sugar and salt and saturated fat are too dominant in our food environment and are heavily marketed at young children and their families. We hope our findings will be used to update the children’s dietary guidelines and related policies, for example controls on the availability and marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks.”

Media queries

Growing Up in New Zealand communications manager Saraid Black
 0274 732 211

About Growing Up in New Zealand:

  • Growing Up in New Zealand is Aotearoa’s largest contemporary longitudinal study of child development following more than 6,000 children from before birth. The children in the study reflect the ethnic and sociodemographic make-up of children born in New Zealand in the early 21st century.
  • The study is focused on what works to optimise child development and wellbeing.
  • Children and families generously give their time to the study. Currently we are contacting families for a report about turning 12-years-old. Find out more about Growing Up in New Zealand’s research at
  • Growing Up in New Zealand is a University of Auckland study, managed by UniServices Limited and is funded by the New Zealand Government.