National diet survey exposes children’s poor eating habits

A new government survey shows that while adults are eating close to the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables, many children’s diets are low in fruit and veg and contain too much saturated fat.

The survey also identifies deficiencies in mineral  and some vitamin intakes

The findings of the latest National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) have prompted the Department of Health to warn that poor eating habits among children “risk storing up a number of potential problems for later life, such as heart disease and some cancers”.

The Children’s Food Campaign seized on the survey’s findings to attack Coalition plans to invite big food brands to take part in the NHS Change4lLife initiative. Its co-ordinator, Kawther Hashem, told The Guardian: “It is ridiculous for government to argue that companies like Mars, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Pizza Hut should write the government’s health policies. They have no interest in young people eating more fruit and vegetables. They make their profits peddling sweets, fizzy drinks and processed foods.”

The NDNS survey, which looked at the food consumption and nutrient intakes of 2126 participants using a four-day food diary, found that:

• adults aged 19-64 on average consumed 4.2 portions of fruit and veg a day (with older adults averaging 4.4 portions — but just 30 per cent of adults and 37% of older adults achieved the full 5-a-day recommendation

• The consumption of oily fish was well below the recommended one portion per week in all age groups.

• Intakes of saturated were higher than officially recommended in all age groups

• Mean intake of vitamins (except vitamin D) were at, or above, Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI)

• Mean intakes of minerals from food sources were below the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for some age groups, in particular children aged 11 to 18 years and a substantial proportion of this age group, particularly girls, had intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI)

• A quarter of adults aged 19 to 64 years, and more than a third of adults aged 65 years and over, reported taking at least one dietary supplement during the four-day recording period.

Commenting on the survey findings, the executive director of the HFMA, Graham Keen, said: “This new survey by the Department of Health confirms what we have been saying all along, that basic guidelines, such as consuming adequate levels of fruit and vegetables every day, are being ignored by the majority of the population. However, it also confirms that there is widespread use of supplementation for providing key nutritional support, with 25% of the people taking at least one supplement each day.

“People need to take nutrition more seriously and the best nutritional solution for most is to eat as healthy a diet as possible, combined with the adoption of other health-related lifestyle changes. Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot undo unhealthy living, but combined with good lifestyle choices, can play an important role in promoting overall health and wellbeing.”

“In an ideal world, our diet would provide us with all the vitamins and minerals that our body needs. But this survey is yet another one which shows that a significant proportion of the UK population simply isn’t achieving nutritional sufficiency through diet alone. This is where food supplements show their true value.”