The Australian government has launched an initiative to provide comprehensive national measures of what and how much Australian eat, and their levels of physical activity.

Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing Christopher Pyne announced a joint Australian government/food industry project called Measuring Australia's Eating Habits and Physical Activity at Parliament House.

McGauran said the Australian government Departments of Health and Ageing and Agriculture and the Australian Food and Grocery Council have each contributed A$1m (US$0.77m) to the project.

"It will involve collecting up-to-date information about what Australians are eating, the foods that are available to eat, and their level of physical activity," he said.

"The information will help develop strategies to reduce chronic diseases linked to diet and inactivity such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. It will also provide evidence to help combat rising levels of obesity. Work on the project will begin shortly," he added.

Pyne said the health portfolio would provide an additional $1m a year - every year - for an ongoing, national programme.

"Today's $3m joint funding will support the first phase of the project, and will focus specifically on children and young people," Pyne said. "Subsequent phases will target all ages."

"This information is vital for governments, health professionals and the food industry if they are to fully understand the eating and activity habits of Australians - particularly as it is ten years since the last survey was undertaken," he added.

McGauran said the data would also help improve food regulatory arrangements by providing a better understanding of the types of food Australians are consuming, and how much.

"This will help industry better target its R&D efforts by, for example, providing a clearer understanding of the types of food that could be fortified with vitamins and minerals," he said.

"The data will also assist the food industry to innovate and create new products and marketing opportunities that meet the changing nutritional needs of Australians from all walks of life," McGauran added.