Child playing on swings.

Nutrition plays an important part in lifelong childhood development, health and wellbeing as an adult and susceptibility to diseases as we get older.

Diet & nutrition

CSIRO is researching foods and diets to keep us healthier and fitter.

  • 25 February 2009 | Updated 14 October 2011

Australia has the climate, soils, resources and geography to produce an astonishing array of foods in abundance. Despite these advantages, eating to stay healthy is not as simple as it might seem. 

An ageing population coupled with increasing obesity is posing serious concerns. The numbers of obese people has doubled over the past 10 years and more young people are overweight.

Obesity increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It also increases the risk of large bowel cancer, the most common internal malignancy in Australia. 

CSIRO’s human nutrition researchers are developing strategies to tackle some serious preventable health and medical issues through diet and nutrition.

An ageing population increases the burden of disease and the need for health maintenance, with dementia being of particular concern. The potential of diet to prevent mental deterioration with ageing is an emerging priority. 

CSIRO's multidisciplinary research in diet and nutrition is aimed at developing strategies for the effective prevention and management of some of these serious conditions. It is aimed also at the promotion of general well-being at important stages of life.

As well as improving personal well-being, application of research outcomes will reduce health costs. For example, the direct cost of colorectal cancer in Australia is estimated at more than A$200 million.

CSIRO is responding to these issues by:

  • developing diets and assisting in weight control to lower the problems of obesity
  • laboratory studies into the health benefits of foods and specific food components
  • developing better indicators of health status and responses to diet including mental function
  • research into claims about foods and functional foods including dietary studies in volunteers
  • investigating consumer behaviour as it relates to food, diet and health
  • developing plants with improved nutritional traits.

There is focus on specific food components including dietary complex carbohydrates and proteins, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils, vitamins, antioxidants and prebiotics (substances in food that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria – generally carbohydrates).

Nutrition is an important quality attribute for consumers who are increasingly interested in health promotion. Application of research outcomes is linked closely with food and health research throughout CSIRO.

For example, new plant sources of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are being developed to meet increasing consumer demand. These fatty acids are essential for normal growth and development and are protective against conditions such as heart disease, inflammation and impaired nerve function.

Nutrition science will be used to validate the health benefits of these new oils and assess their acceptability to consumers.

Find out more about Omega-3 oils in grains.