One in two young Australians experienced stressors during pandemic, data shows

Young people have experienced more stressors than older Australians throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new data.

On Friday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released new figures from its National Health Survey, on stressors, diet and breastfeeding. The survey collected information from 11,000 households around the country between August 2020 and June 2021.

Nearly half (48.3%) of people aged 18 to 24 experienced one or more stressors during this period, which included factors such as mental ill health, job loss or being unable to get a job. In comparison, 34.8% of people aged 65 and older experienced one or more stressors.

The findings are in keeping with previous research showing young people experienced higher rates of psychological distress and educational disruption throughout the pandemic.

Separately, Australians are not eating enough fruit and vegetables, with only 6.1% of over-18s meeting the recommended daily intake.

The ABS emphasised that because the survey was conducted online during the pandemic, the collected data can only be considered as a snapshot in time. “Comparisons to previous health data over time are not possible,” it said.

Because follow-ups weren’t able to be done in person, the response rate was lower for the latest survey, which might affect how accurately some statistics represent the broader population.

Across the general adult population, 43.7% of people experienced one or more stressors. The most commonly reported were mental ill health (12.8%), death of a family member or close friend (12.4%) and serious illness (11.3%).

Women (45%) were more likely than men (42.2%) to experience at least one stressor.

People aged 18 to 24 were more likely to report mental ill health (19.2%), being unable to get a job (15.7%) and job loss (13%) as a stressor, while one in seven people aged 65 and over cited serious illness as a stressor.

Of people who experienced high or very high psychological distress, seven in 10 reported experiencing at least one stressor.

Australians are not eating enough fruit and vegetables – in 2020–21, only 6.1% of adults and 8.5% children ate the recommended amount of both.

While 44.8% of those over 18 chomped on the recommended two or more serves of fruit daily, only 8.7% met the suggested vegetable intake (five to six serves, depending on age and sex).

Adult women were more likely to meet the recommendations than men; 9% of women met both recommendations, while men lagged at 2.9%.

The vast majority of Australian children (95.9%) aged zero to three received some breast milk. The ABS figures show just over one in three children (35.4%) were exclusively breastfed to six months, which is recommended by national infant feeding guidelines.

Overseas, exclusive breastfeeding rates reportedly dropped during the pandemic in countries including the US and Italy, with some mothers citing difficulties in accessing health support. Misleading claims that breastfeeding was unsafe due to Covid may also have been a factor.

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