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5-a-day: is the message working?


Key findings of a new survey from the Department of Health in the UK reveal that the government and the food industry still have a long way to go before the UK population has registered the five-a-day message.

According to a Department of Health survey of 1,800 adults carried out in 2002, men in particular remain blissfully unaware of the message. Less than half of all male respondents (43 per cent) knew that five or more portions of fruit and vegetables are recommended daily. A figure in sharp contrast to the women, where nearly three quarters of those interviewed - 72 per cent - were aware of the five-a-day allowance.

Undoubtedly disappointing for much of the population, potatoes do not contribute towards a portion of fruit or vegetables. However, almost four-fifths (79 per cent) of respondents thought a jacket potato could count towards the daily intake. This figure reveals the clear confusion in the minds of the consumer as to which fruit and vegetables precisely are 'allowed'. And not only the type, but also how much constitutes a 'portion'.

The health message is that 'at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables should be eaten each day', which equates approximately to 80g per portion. In general, most fruit and vegetables count, but starchy, staple vegetables, such as potatoes, yams and cassava do not. Fruit and vegetable juices count, as do beans and pulses, but only once a day, even if more than one portion is consumed.

Identifying a 'portion' is clearly an area that can be improved upon through greater communication from both the food industry and the government. Although over two thirds (70 per cent) of respondents who reported that green salad counted towards daily intake correctly identified the portion size (one cereal bowl), for other food items only about one third correctly identified what constitutes a portion. For example, almost a third (30 per cent) of respondents who reported that satsumas counted correctly identified the portion size (two satsumas), two thirds (64 per cent) underestimated and 4 per cent overestimated portion size.

Commenting on the findings, Martin Paterson, deputy director of the UK Food and Drink Federation, said: "Government and industry is to turn this [the survey findings] into action on people's lifestyle. The FDF will work with the government to help make this happen."

The Five-a-day programme, developed by the UK Department of Health, in conjunction with the Food Standards Agency, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), and the Health Development Agency, is a component of a government plan to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.

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