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UK Diet Disaster Alert

publication date: Jun 10, 2019

HSIS Dietary Trends Report 2019Despite the high-profile 5 A Day fruit and vegetable campaign launched 16 years ago, more than two thirds of adults aged 19-64 fail to eat the recommended amount.

The report - STATE OF THE NATION: DIETARY TRENDS IN THE UK – 20 YEARS ON. Where are we and where are we going? was researched and written by Dr Pamela Mason and Dr Emma Derbyshire with a specialist team of guest reviewers including Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietitian and health writer, Professor Robert Pickard, Emeritus Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Cardiff and former Director-General of the British Nutrition Foundation, and Dr Gill Jenkins, a GP, flying doctor and medical writer.

Poor diet has the highest impact on the NHS budget, costing around £6 billion a year – greater than for alcohol consumption, smoking and physical inactivity. Health experts fear that the levels of chronic illnesses will increase further as diets remain dangerously inadequate.

The HSIS report, which reviewed dietary intake data over the last 20 years, revealed the stark reality of a significant downturn in the major nutrients in UK diets across all population groups:

  • Vitamin A - down by 21 per cent and more women of child bearing age are not meeting even minimum targets for vitamin A
  • Vitamin D - down by 22 per cent
  • Riboflavin - down by 11 per cent
  • Folate - down by 10 per cent
  • Calcium - down by 10 per cent
  • Iron - down by 5 per cent and ten times more older women are not meeting the minimum dietary target for iron. Almost one third (of teenagers fail to achieve this minimum – up eight per cent since 2009
  • Potassium - down by 4 per cent

And in the same HSIS report, data also revealed:

  • Oily fish consumption has not improved in the last 20 years, remaining consistently below optimal levels
  • Intakes of fibre (roughage) were also below recommended levels, partly as a reflection of poor fruit and vegetable intakes and low levels of wholegrain foods.

Commenting on the HSIS report findings, Professor Robert Pickard said, 

“A good balanced diet is the cornerstone of good health. Unfortunately, the majority of children, young people and adults in the UK are not eating a healthy diet, with significant impact on vitamin and mineral intakes. Despite the UK Government’s well-known 5 A Day fruit and vegetable campaign launched in 2003, no population group in the UK is achieving their 5 A Day, a situation that has actually become even worse over the past decade with intakes of fruit and vegetables dropping by almost one third in older adults and by 20 per cent in youngsters aged 11-18 years, the population group least likely to achieve the ‘5 A Day’. The failure of the 5 A Day campaign may have happened for several reasons but the main reason revolves around confusion. The latest evidence from HSIS reveals that people just don’t understand portion sizes.”

Role of supplements in closing the nutrient gap

Studies in adults have shown that supplement use can make a significant contribution to vitamin and mineral intake. 

Public Health England recommends the UK population takes a daily 10µg vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter, and a 400µg folic acid supplement for women of reproductive age.

The Chief Medical Officer recommends vitamin A, C and D supplementation for children aged six months to 5 years. These recommendations should be followed but they are are not enough to bridge the dietary gap across the entire population.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are likely to remain low too as oily fish intake is not improving. As plant-based sustainable diets increase in popularity with individual concerns about the sustainability of fish stocks, it is likely that oily fish intake will not increase. Red and processed meat now seem to be on a downturn with potential impacts on zinc, iron and vitamin B12 intakes.

A multivitamin and mineral supplement containing the recommended amounts of a wide variety of nutrients plus a daily omega-3 remedy is the most useful way to bridge the nutrient gap across the population.

About HSIS

HSIS (the Health and Food Supplements Information Service) is a communication service providing accurate and balanced information on vitamins, minerals and other food supplements to the media and to health professionals working in the field of diet and nutrition.