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Attachment 4. Comment on the Davidson Report of 1988

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Comment on the Davidson Report of 1988

In this report, Davidson compared the nutrient content of the civilian diet and service rations operational during World War 2. The food intakes recorded for the adult male in the National Household Survey and from the service rations were converted from "as purchased" to edible weights using the 1948 Australian Food Tables and the nutrient intake data were calculated from the 1978 British reference McCance and Widdowson's “The composition of foods”. It was assumed that all purchased meat fat was consumed, either as part of the purchased food or retained for other use, such as frying or for gravies.

The comparison as given in the Davidson document is as follows:

Intake/day Civilian Army
Nutrient content comparisons from the Davidson Report of 1988
Fat (g) 144 163
Energy (kcal) 3734 3830
% energy from fat 35 38
Dietary fibre (g) 30 38

In this comparison, there are some methodological differences which should be noted. The civilian intakes are based on actual household food consumption, which subtracted household food waste from intakes. The estimate of a male adult intake of food was a theoretical calculation, based on the composition of the household and the allocation of a consumption factor to each member, based on sex and age.

The service data are based on a ration scale, for which no allowance appears to have been made for waste. That considerable food waste did occur in army units during the war years is well documented in the report of Sir Stanley Hicks “The feeding of a soldier”. There was major public concern at the many reports of such waste, which resulted in the establishment of a Treasury Enquiry into food waste in the Services in March 1942. It was also an accepted practice, as reported by Hicks, that important cost savings of the army food service included the recovery and sale of waste fat for both edible and non-edible purposes, which would reduce the amount of fat available for consumption in the service ration. Note is also made of the freedom of food choices of servicemen, through the development of ancillary feeding institutions, such as the Army Canteen Service, with liberal spending by men of their own money, and the use of canteens and snack bars run by such groups as the Salvation Army, YMCA, Comfort Funds and other volunteer organisations.

Also, the nutrient analyses in the Davidson report were undertaken using the 1978 UK food composition tables. A detailed nutrient analysis of Australian meat cuts is now available, which clearly demonstrates that the use of overseas data for this food group significantly overestimates the level of fat in Australian meat and meat products and exaggerates its contribution to dietary fat and hence the level of fat in the total diet. This issue is also important as the main difference between fat sources in the services vs civilian diets was the additional meat provided in the services rations.

Also, importantly the Davidson report was commissioned before the link between animal fat intake and risk for malignant neoplasm of the prostate was established, and does not address the level of animal fat in the civilian and service diets.