‘If you want to get a clear picture of what people in the UK are eating – both in terms of the type and quantity of food eaten along with the nutritional status of the nation the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) is a must read document.
The findings from the latest survey hold no real surprises. As a nation we are still eating too much saturated fat, added sugar and salt and not enough fruit and vegetables or oil rich fish. While most of us are getting enough vitamins, a large number of children and adults are failing to meet targets for several key minerals.
The million dollar question for me as a health educator is why, despite the plethora of dietary advice available are people failing to meet these targets?
We know that people believe healthy eating is important. Over three quarters (87%) of respondents in the The Food Standards Agency’s Consumer Attitudes Survey 2008 either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: ‘eating healthily is very important to me’ and surveys show that most of us are well aware of healthy eating messages. But it seems this knowledge is not always translated into actions, so for instance although 90% of UK adults know that 5 is the magic number when it comes to fruit and veg, 70% of adults fail to meet the target and this number rises to a staggering 90% amongst children. Findings such as these suggest that there is a huge great chasm between having the knowledge and the desire to eating healthily and actually doing so.
Understanding more about factors that shape our food choices is an important consideration. Work patterns and time pressures, culinary skills, the economic climate and food trends all have an impact.
- For a growing number of UK consumers ‘convenience’ is the name of the game when it comes to determining food choice. A study * published in March this year revealed that British households now spend just 34 minutes cooking their evening meal, which is around half the time spent in the 1980’s. But this doesn’t have to be a barrier, whether it’s in the shape of a jar of pasta sauce, a microwavable ready meal or a takeaway, quick and convenient can still be healthy and brands that are able to tick both the convenient and healthy boxes will have a real advantage.
- Despite our voracious appetite for TV cookery shows and books (Jamie Oliver is the UK’s second best–selling author after JK Rowling) the average person in the UK has a repertoire of just four recipes and sandwiches have become the most commonly eaten meal, with almost 6.4billion consumed every year in the UK. Variety may be the spice of life but it’s also an important component of a healthy balanced diet so encouraging people to extend the range of recipes they cook is another challenge. With the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1989 cookery was lumped into a category called Design and Technology with the result that many young adults have grown up without basic culinary skills or food knowledge. The reintroduction of cooking to the National Curriculum at Key Stages, 1, 2 and 3, is a step in the right direction but sadly several generations of UK adults have now been raised in households where no one ever cooks. Helping these people understand that cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be time consuming or require Cordon Bleu cookery skills is a real challenge
- The recession has also had an impact on our eating habits. When money is tight price rather than health becomes the number one factor driving choice, but now that we are emerging from the recession hopefully we may see an upturn in sales of healthy foods such as fresh meat and fish, fruit and vegetables and consumers will be more willing to pay a premium for healthier products.
- ‘Free from’ is no longer a niche market, in fact it is one of the fastest growing categories in Grocery, enjoying annual growth of + 18.2%. Gluten free is the largest segment within the UK free-from category with a 48% share. Dairy free is the next largest sector. The volume sales of cows’ milk alternatives such as soya, rice, oat, nut and buffalo milk grew by 155% between 2011-2013. The number of people with Coeliac Disease (CD) has quadrupled in the last 20 years, but the number of people diagnosed CD is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Coeliac UK believe that three quarters of people with CD remain undiagnosed and growing number of people, without CD, are choosing to avoid gluten and wheat. Increased awareness and better diagnosis of food and intolerance means than avoidance of ingredients like gluten and dairy is a trend that will continue to grow. While once upon a time avoiding gluten meant comprising on flavour, quality and taste, with the new generation of gluten free foods this is no longer the case.
Of course the responsibility doesn’t begin and end with food brands, everyone has a part to play in improving public health. Health educators must make sure people really understand what a healthy diet means and have the practical skills necessary to implement the knowledge; consumers must accept responsibility for their own health; the food industry must continue to work with the Government to help and encourage consumers to make the right choices.
*Kantar World panel – Appetite For Change?
by Fiona Hunter, Independent Nutritionist and Clarion Advisory Board Member
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