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New survey gives snapshot of UK diet

By Jess Halliday , 10-Feb-2010

A national survey into UK eating habits has indicated that people are eating less saturated fat and sugar than they were a decade ago, but more work is needed before intake targets are reached.

The Food Standards Agency conducted its first rolling National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) in 2008/9 to gather data on the diets of people aged 18 months and over. In the past surveys had looked only at specific age groups, but decided to change the system so it could measure changes over a period of time.

The new data indicates that saturated fat intake has fallen from 13.3 per cent of daily energy in 2000/1 to 12.8 per cent in 2008/9. The recommended level is 11 per cent.

Sugar intake by men and children has also fallen. The population intake level is 12.5 per cent of energy, against a recommendation of 11 per cent.

More than a third of men and women are now said to be meeting 5-a-day fruit and veg targets, with the average daily intake at 4.4 servings.

Given that this is the first time the rolling survey has taken place, the FSA recalculated data from its earlier age-split surveys to allow comparison.

Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health at the FSA said evidence from this, and other surveys will allow government departments to formulate policy to address issues.

She added, however, that “there is obviously a way to go before we are meeting all the government’s dietary recommendations”.

What’s missing?

Aside from more work being required on reducing fat and sugar, the survey did highlight some areas where the UK population is mission out foods that can be beneficial to health.

For instance, average fibre intake is just 14g, but the recommended intake is 18g. consumption of oily fish, the main source of omega-3 fatty acids, is well below the recommended once a week; and iron intake in 11-18 year old girls is low.

Causes?

The survey does not shed any light on the causes of the changes to population eating habits. The FSA has implemented public health campaigns on five-a-day fruit and veg and, more recently, saturated fat consumption.

However industry has also been encouraged to reformulate products along healthier lines. Although guidelines for saturated fat reduction have only recently been drawn up, it has been on the radar screen of food formulators for some time, along with salt and added sugar.

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