Unhealthy diet a lifestyle choice, says UK study

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fsa Cent Nutrition Food standards agency

People on low incomes consume just as much unhealthy food and drink
as the general population, and so bad diets are the result of
personal choice, according to a study published by the UK
regulator Sunday.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that it will consider the results in relation to government's diet and nutrition policy, a statement likely to worry the food industry, which is already mistrustful of offical interference in the way it markets its products.

The survey, carried out over the past 15 months, examined the dietary habits and nutritional status of the UK's low income group, classified as the bottom 15 per cent of the population in terms of material deprivation.

When the results are compared to earlier surveys carried out on other income groups, the diet-related problems relate to the population as a whole, with all income groups consuming above-recommended amounts of fizzy drinks, fats and sugar, the FSA said.

People are therefore choosing to eat unhealthy diets, the FSA claims.

Rosemary Hignett, FSA's head of nutrition, warned that, "...poor diets can lead to chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer, and contribute to obesity, which is on the rise."

The report noted that levels of obesity among individuals interviewed mirrored the general population, with 62 per cent of men, 63 per cent of women, 35 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls being overweight or obese.

About 65 per cent of children drank a sugary drink during the four-day survey period, although it was noted that consumption of fizzy drinks tended to decrease with age.

In children, fizzy drinks, squash and fruit juice are the main sources of non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES), the FSA said.

NMES are also found in cakes, biscuits and sweets, and it accounts for 14 per cent of adult food energy, the FSA added, which is three per cent higher than the recommended allowance.

The individuals questioned obtained about the same amount of food energy from fats as the general population, a level above UK dietary recommendations.

Mean daily intake of total fat was 79.1g for men, 59.4g for women, 76.7g for boys and 67.0g for girls, FSA analysts said.

They also noted that the main contributors to total fat intake in adults' diets are meat and meat products, which account for 24 per cent, cereals and cereal products, 18 per cent, milk and milk products, 15 per cent, fat spreads, 15 per cent, and potatoes & savoury snacks, 9 per cent.

According to the FSA, the average daily intake of vitamins and many minerals from food and drink is above the recommended intake in the lower income bracket.

However, the people who took part in the survey revealed inadequate levels of iron, folate and vitamin D in their diet, reflecting the wider population, the FSA said.

The study also suggests that people fall short in their consumption of fibre, with 51 per cent of men and 69 per cent of women failing to eat the recommended 18g per day.

FSA research has previously led to voluntary changes in the way the food industry markets its products as the country battles against an obesity epidemic.

However, the food industry is not always compliant with the FSA's attempts at driving food policy.

For some time now the FSA has supported voluntary traffic light food labelling, where red, amber and green colour coding is used to show high, medium and low amounts of saturated fats, sugars and salt.

However, the industry is divided on the system.

Some of the UK's biggest food manufacturers have joined together to promote a system of labelling ingredients with a guideline daily amount (GDA), which they claim will help people " make better-informed decisions about the food they eat", compared the 'confusing' traffic light system."

The GDA system sets out the percentage of four key nutrients that each product contains that is recommended as part of a healthy diet.

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