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4. Patterns of Food and Nutrient Consumption in the Australian Population


Patterns of Food and Nutrient Consumption in the Australian Population (1938-39 to 1993-94) - Trends in Animal Fat Level

Apparent Consumption of Foods and Nutrients: Australia

This section of the report covers changes in the Australian food supply from 1938-39 to 1993-94. As no further national dietary surveys were conducted until 1983 and then again in 1995-96, the only information available on trends in national food and nutrient consumption patterns is provided by the series Apparent consumption of foods and nutrients: Australia, issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This series is published annually since 1944.

Apparent consumption = (Commercial production + estimated home production + imports + opening stocks) minus (Exports + usage for processed foods + non-food usage + wastage + closing stocks).

It should be noted that this series provides information on the food and nutrients available for consumption per head of population per day over the period of a given year, based on statistical collections. It does not provide data on actual food consumption.


4.1 Trends post-war in apparent food and nutrient consumption - the effect of food rationing on animal fat consumption

The availability of foods and nutrients during the latter part of World War 2 and post-war were affected by food rationing in Australia. Rationing of sugar, butter, and meat for civilians was introduced during World War 2 to maximise the supply of foods to the United Kingdom and the Australian and Allied Services. Other commodities, including bacon and ham, cream, eggs, and milk were subjected to a measure of control and available for civilian consumption only after other priorities had been met. Tea was rationed due to a reduction in imports of this commodity. The ration scale then in operation and its timing is given below:

Commodity Date began Rate/hd/wk Change Rate Change Rate
World War 2 Ration Scale in Australia
Meat * 17.1.44 2.25lb 26.2.45 2.10lb 7.5.45 1.84lb
Meat ** 17.1.44 1.13lb 26.2.45 1.05lb    
Butter 7.6.42 8oz 5.6.44 6oz    
Sugar 31.8.42 1lb        
Tea 6.7.42 1.6oz 19.10.43 2oz    

*Civilians, aged 9 years and over
**Children, aged under 9 years

Meat rationing was terminated on 21 June 1948. It is reported in the first issue of Food Production and the Consumption of Foodstuffs and Nutrients in Australia - 1946-47 (Australian Bureau of Statistics) that rationing of meat caused a reduction in its available consumption from a pre-war level of 253.0lb carcass wt (179.6lb retail wt) to 203.2lb carcass wt (144.3 retail wt) in 1945, 203.1 carcass wt (144.2lb retail wt) in 1946 and 201.7lb carcass wt (142.4 retail wt) in 1946-47.

Changes in the estimated supplies of foodstuffs from 1936/37 to 1946/47, contributing fat from animal sources and in available total fat and animal fat are as follows:

Commodity 1936/37 to 1938/39 1944 1945 1946 1946-47
Changes in estimated supplies of foodstuffs 1936 to 1947 shown in lbs(kg)/head/year
Milk/m products
(total milk solids)
39.2 (17.8) 44.3 (20.1) 44.6 (20.2) 47.1 (21.4) 46.5 (21.1)
Total meat
(carcass wt)
253.2 (114.8)

218.7 (99.2)

203.2 (92.2) 203.1 (92.1) 201.7 (91.5)
33.5 (15.2) 28.9 (13.1) 27.6 (12.5) 25.3 (11.5) 26.5 (12.0)

The effect of these changes in the availability of total fat and animal-based fat as given in the above reference, are as follows:

Nutrient 1936/7-1938/39 1944 1945 1946 1946-47
Effect of these changes in the availability of total fat and animal -based fat
Fat 132.5 135.7 127.7 135.2 133.1
Fat (animal) 116.9* 105.7 100.7* 97.4* 107.8

* Extrapolated from 1948-49 values for the contribution of milk, meat and butter/lard to total fat, modified on the basis of available quantities of these commodities/head/year for each specific year.

It should be appreciated that the above values for available animal fat except for 1946-47, are extrapolated from other data in the apparent consumption series. However, their reduction from pre-war values indicate a broad trend in the availability of animal fat during the war and post-war years, which is indicative of the rationing of butter and meat. Butter rationing introduced in 1942 is reflected in the reduction of the availability of this commodity in 1944, 1945 and 1946. Meat rationing introduced in 1944, is reflected in the reduction of the availability of this commodity from pre-war years in 1944, with a continuing reduction in 1945, 1946 and 1946-47. In 1946-47, there was limited increase in the availability of butter from that in 1946.

The period 1947/48 to 1949/50

In the post-war period of 1947/48 to 1949/50, total fat availability fell within the range of 121.9-125.1g/head/day, with contributions of animal-based fat in the order of 95-98g/head/day. The continued rationing of meat until June 1948 and butter until June 1950 and the reduced availability of these commodities explains this fall in both animal-based and total fat available for consumption.


Between 1936/39 and 1949-50 there were reductions in the availability of animal fats in the civilian diet due to reductions in the availability of total meats (carcass wt) and butter, despite an increase in the availability of milk and milk products (as total milk solids). The availability of butter and meat products were adversely affected by civilian rationing of these commodities in June 1942 and January 1944 respectively. The reduced availability of these food products continued in the immediate post-war years, as rationing of meat continued until June 1948, and that of butter to June 1950. However total fat generally remained similar over the time period 1936/39 to 1946-47 buffered by the increase in milk and milk products and a considerable increase in the production and availability of margarine, of which coconut oil was the major component. Continued rationing of meat and butter impacted on both available total fat and animal fat with lower levels of both these fats estimated in 1947/48 to 1949/50.


4.2 Ten yearly changes in available foods and nutrients for consumption 1938-39 to 1993-94 - Trends in available animal fats

Between 1938-39 and 1993-94 there was a fall in the amount of total fat (animal and vegetable) available for consumption per head of population per day from 133.5 to 117.5 grams.

Ten yearly figures over this period are as follows:

Total fat trends

  • 133.5g fat in 1938-39
  • 121.7g fat in 1948-49
  • 131.7g fat in 1958-59
  • 123.2g fat in 1968-69
  • 152.6g fat in 1978-79
  • 119.8g fat in 1988-89
  • 117.6g fat in 1993-94*

* The latest year for which nutrient data are available.

Over the last five years of this series on nutrient availability from 1989-90 to 1993-94, there has been little change in the available total fat/head/day in the Australian diet, ranging from 120.7g in 1989-90 to 117.5g in 1993-94. It should be noted that the current methodology and nutrient composition data for calculating meat data was introduced in 1983-84. Data were re-calculated back to 1975-76. Thus the average for the three years ending 1978-79, and annual data from 1978-79 published in the 1983-83 and subsequent issues of the series, are directly comparable. This would partly explain the increase in available total fat from 1968-69 to 1978-79. The subsequent reduction in total fat from 1978-79 to 1988-89 may be explained by the decrease in the availability of total meat (carcass wt) from 102.2kg to 82.8kg/head/year, and of butter from 5.1kg/ to 3.2kg/head/year.


4.3 Changes in animal fat consumption 1938-39 to 1993-94

Since 1938-39, there has been a considerable change in the ratio of animal to vegetable sources of fat, available for consumption. This change has taken place because of a reduction in the availability of total meat (carcass wt) and butter and the replacement of animal-based fats and oils particularly butter by vegetable oil-based products (eg margarines). In 1972, vegetable oils were first imported into Australia in significant quantities, and agricultural production of edible oil crops commenced. From this period, margarines and cooking oils based on vegetable products began to replace butter and cooking fats that were animal-based.

It can be correctly assumed that most of the oils and fat group available in 1938-39 for consumption in Australia were animal-based (this group then comprised 14.9kg butter vs 2.2kg margarine/head/year, reported to be mainly based on coconut oil). The availability of animal-based fat (with the exception of that from poultry and seafood) has been estimated from the contribution of total meat (carcass wt), total milk (full milk solids) and butter to the available total fat at ten yearly intervals from 1938-39 to 1988-89 and in 1993-94.

These levels are given below:

Animal fat trends

  • 116.9g animal fat in 1938-39*
  • 102.5g animal fat in 1948-49
  • 110.7g animal fat in 1958-59
  •  97.4g animal fat in 1968-69
  •  75.8g animal fat in 1978-79
  •  55.2g animal fat in 1988-89
  •  56.0g animal fat in 1993-94**

*As the individual contribution of the meat, milk and fats/oils commodity groups to the available total fat was not available, the figure of available animal-based fat for 1938-39 was extrapolated from the 1948-49 data.
** The latest year for which nutrient data are available.


Between the years 1938-39 and 1993-94, there has been a major change in the amount of animal fat available for consumption, falling from an estimate of 116.9g/head/day in 1938-39 to 56.0g in 1993-94. This change in animal fat availability has resulted from a reduction in the availability of total meat (carcass wt) and butter from 118.5kg/head/year and 14.9kg/head/year respectively in 1938-39 to 79.8kg/head/year and 3.0kg/head/year respectively in 1993-94. During the same period, milk consumption (total milk solids) increased from 17.8kg to 24.0kg/head/year. Overall, there has been little change in the amount of total fat available for consumption in Australia from a level of 133.5g/head/day in 1938-39 to 117.5g/head/day in 1993-94.