UK data shows most people do not meet healthy eating targets

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

UK data shows most people do not meet healthy eating targets

Related tags Nutrition Uk

The UK population is still consuming too much saturated fat, added sugars and salt and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish and fibre, says a new report.

The findings come from the latest update to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) put together by Public Health England (PHE) - revealing new data on UK population food intakes and comparing it to previous years that the survey has been run.

The report​ finds that in the population as a whole, mean saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) and salt intakes were above dietary recommendations, and the mean intakes of fruit and vegetables, non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) and oily fish were below recommendations - while mean total fat and trans-fat intakes were in line with recommendations.

‘Cereals and cereal products’ and ‘meat and meat products’ were the main contributors to total fat intake, except in children under four years, for whom ‘milk and milk products’ was the largest contributor, said the report.

An increased risk of vitamin D deficiency in all age and sex groups was also identified.

"The findings, from the 4 years covered by the survey, confirm that eating habits do not change quickly. It is clear that we all need to work together to help people improve their diets,"​ said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE- who added that the data provides 'compelling evidence' that everybody needs make dietary, but that the findings were especially worrying for teenagers.

An exexutive summary of the report can be found here​, while the full report can be found here​.

Downward trend?

The report noted that average intakes of energy, total fat and saturated fat tended to be lower in Y3&4 than in Y1&2 of the survey - adding that and the differences reached statistical significance for some age groups.

"Intakes expressed as a percentage of energy tended to be higher for carbohydrate and lower for total fat in Y3&4 than in Y1&2 with the differences reaching statistical significance for some age/sex groups."

Total and red meat consumption also tended to be lower in Y3&4 compared with Y1&2 but there were no differences in fruit and vegetable consumption. Indeed, only 33% of adults and 41% of older adults met the '5-a-day' recommendation, while only 10% of boys and 7% of girls aged 11 to 19 years met the recommendation.

A spokesman for Sugar Nutrition UK added that the results from NDNS 'useful' to the current debate on carbohydrates - "as they show that the average intake of added sugars (non-milk extrinsic sugars) has decreased in recent years."

"Today’s report in particular notes the decline in the intakes of added sugars in children compared to previous surveys,"​ said Sugar Nutrition UK. "This data is particularly interesting because it provides a measure of what people actually eat and drink, rather than relying purely on estimates based on household purchase or supply availability information."

"Further analysis of this and subsequent years' data will enable researchers and health professionals to see whether there are any significant shifts or trends in both what and how much we are eating as a nation."

While this downward trend in recent years is caseoptimism, the key report finding - that the UK population are consuming far above guideline intakes for added sugar, saturated fat and salt - should be a cause for concern, said the report. However, a number of dieticians and health experts have suggested that 'being on the right track' towards lower levels in the future is just as important.

Vitamins and minerals

With the exception of vitamin D, the survey found that. on average, intakes of the majority of vitamins were adequate, however intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI) were found in a proportion of the 11 to 18 years age group for vitamin A, riboflavin and folate (in girls only), while adult women (aged 19 to 64 years) were found to have intakes below the LRNI for riboflavin.

"Year-round, the proportion of children with a serum 25-OHD concentration below 25nmol/L at the time of venepuncture ranged from 7.5% for children aged 1.5 to 3 years to 24.4% for girls aged 11 to 18 years and for adults this ranged from 16.9% for men aged 65 years and over to 24.1% for women aged 65 years and over,"​ the report found.

For iron, both the dietary intake and biochemical status data indicated an increased risk of iron deficiency in girls aged 11 to 18 years and women aged 19 to 64 years. There was also evidence of intakes below the LRNI in a 'substantial proportion' of older children and adults for minerals including magnesium, potassium and selenium.

The survey also reported that 17% of men and 27% of women aged 19 to 64 years, and 35% of men and 47% of women aged 65 years and over reported taking at least one dietary supplement during the four-day recording period.

"In general, supplement takers had higher intakes of vitamins and minerals from food sources than those who did not take supplements,"​ the report stated - adding that the contribution from supplements had 'little effect' on the proportion of people who had low intakes of vitamins or minerals.

The national survey

The NDNS is an annual survey designed to assess the food consumption and nutritional status of a UK representative sample of 1,000 people per year (500 children, 500 adults) aged 18 months upwards living in private households.

"The NDNS provides the only source of high quality nationally representative data on the types and quantities of foods consumed by individuals, from which estimates of nutrient intake for the population are derived,"​ states the report's executive summary.

Results from the survey are used by the UK government to develop new policies and monitor progress on diet and nutrition objectives of UK health departments, while the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) also use the survey to provide consumption data that is then used to assess exposure limits.

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