Research conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) among over 13,100 school children across the UK, shows that more than half of secondary school children believe that carbohydrate is more calorific than fat.
The survey was conducted as part of the BNF’s Healthy Eating Week, launched today by HRH The Princess Royal. Over 4,300 nursery, primary and secondary schools are participating in the Week during which over 1.7 million children will be learning valuable lessons about healthy eating, cooking, food provenance and the benefits of physical activity.
On the whole, secondary school children’s knowledge about micronutrients is encouraging with nearly three quarters (74 percent) accurately matching vitamin C with citrus fruit and 83 percent matching calcium with dairy products.
However, there are some alarming misconceptions and Roy Ballam, Education Programme Manager at BNF said: “For the second year running our research shows that the majority of 11-16 year olds (52 percent) believe that carbohydrate provides more energy than either fat or protein when, in fact, fat is more calorific. This misunderstanding is worrying when considered in relation to obesity.”
Five a Day
Meanwhile, the research also shows that 85.5 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 16 years know that they should eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables each day. However, this knowledge doesn’t translate into behaviour, with an average of only a third of school children (30 percent) saying they actually ate that amount the day before the survey. Across the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland have the lowest number of 11-14 year olds reporting consuming more than their 5 a day (21 percent in both countries), with a slightly larger percentage (26 percent) of children of the same age in England and Scotland reporting they consume more than 5 a day. In 14-16 year olds, these percentages drop in Scotland to just 13 percent and in Wales to 18 percent. In England and Northern Ireland the percentages fall to 20 percent.
There is some confusion among children about which foods count towards their 5 a day. More than a fifth of 11-14 year olds and 16 percent of 14-16 year olds believe that frozen fruit and vegetables do not count (towards their 5 a day), and a quarter of 11-14 year olds and a fifth of 14-16 year olds do not think that canned fruit and vegetables count; whereas in fact both frozen and canned types do count. However, over 40 percent of the same children think that potatoes do count towards their 5 a day, whereas they are, in fact, grouped with other starchy foods in the UK’s eatwell plate food guide, rather than with fruit and vegetables.
Year on year, the number of children who regularly have breakfast hasn’t changed much since last year’s survey. On the day of the 2014 survey, seven percent of primary school children said they hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning; this increased to nearly a quarter (23 percent) in 11-14 year olds, and then to over a third (32 percent) of 14-16 year olds. Secondary school children in England and Wales were most likely (28 percent) to say they hadn’t eaten breakfast that day, followed by those in Scotland (25 percent) and Northern Ireland (24 percent).
When quizzed on the more general point as to whether they have breakfast each morning, the number of primary school children and those aged 11-14 who report not eating breakfast regularly has remained constant in the past year, while the number of 14-16 year olds reporting the same has increased from a quarter to 28 percent in the past year.
A massive 6 out of 10 (59 percent) 14-16 year olds say that they skip meals and almost half (47 percent) of 11-14 year olds say the same.
The importance of hydration isn’t lost on children but again their knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into action. 26 percent of primary school children and 48 percent of secondary school children know that they should drink between 6-8 drinks each day and yet only 17 percent of primary and 24 percent of secondary school children actually said that they consume that amount.
Ballam commented: “The gap between knowledge and action in some areas is concerning but it is also clear that some important information across all areas of food, nutrition and lifestyle, is being retained across the age groups and this provides valuable building blocks for their learning and becoming more informed.
“For example, scientific evidence confirms that consumption of fish, in particular oily fish, is beneficial to health - national recommendations are that children and adults should consume at least two portions of fish each week. Our research shows that children as young as 5-8 years old understand the value of eating fish, with 96 percent saying we should all eat some fish each week.
Similarly, secondary school children know that eating oily fish is recommended and 58 percent correctly say we should eat two portions each week. A further 21 percent believe we should all eat one portion each week. However, 19 percent of this age group report that they never eat fish at all, while 14 percent of 8-11 year olds and one fifth of 5-8 year olds don’t either.”
26 percent of secondary school children surveyed in Scotland claim never to eat fish. 23 percent of children of the same age in Wales, 20 percent of those in Northern Ireland and 19 percent of all secondary school children surveyed in England say they never eat fish.
Just over half (52 percent) of primary school children have school lunch rather than packed lunch. This percentage dips slightly, but not significantly for older children (44 percent in 8-11 year olds; 49 percent in 11-16 year olds). Primary school children are most likely to say they like their school lunch, with 76% saying they like school lunch compared with 66 percent of 8-11 year olds. 82 percent of children aged 11–16 years rate their school lunch as OK, good or very good, with the remaining 18 percent of that age group saying school lunch is either poor or very poor.
Origins and provenance
BNF’s research illustrates that while the majority of children have a good understanding about food origins and provenance, there are still misconceptions to be addressed: a quarter of 5-8 year olds and 14 percent of 8-11 year olds surveyed think that bread comes from animals, while over a quarter (26 percent) of 5-8 year olds and 22 percent of 8-11 year olds think that cheese comes from plants. Nearly a fifth of primary school children said that potatoes come from animals, and almost a quarter of primary school children, plus more than one in ten (13 percent) of 8-11 year olds, indicated that pasta comes from animals. One in every ten primary school children surveyed thinks that bacon comes from sheep, while 17 percent think that fish fingers come from chicken. Encouragingly, around a fifth of older children (11-16 year olds) want to know more about where their food comes from.
Ballam said: “Food origins, as the foundation of a good understanding of ingredients, cooking and healthy eating, is one of the key themes of Healthy Eating Week and our research shows why educating children in how foods are produced and arrive on their plates is important.”
The results emphasise the need to ensure that a holistic approach to teaching food is taken in schools, linking food origins, cooking and healthy eating together.
An encouraging 79 percent of 5-8 year olds, 80 percent of 8-11 year olds, and two thirds of secondary school children have grown food either at home or at school.
School children are learning about food and farming from a variety of sources including school, home, internet, books, social media and TV, with the biggest influence across the age groups coming from school.
Ballam concluded: “We know that schools play a vital role in educating children about food, nutrition, physical exercise and lifestyle, and this is why we have invested so much in producing free school resources and in making Healthy Eating Week an important milestone in the school calendar.”
High res photos available on request.
Notes to editors
The research was conducted among 13,000 children of primary and secondary school age across the UK. Samples from each participating country were as follows:
Notes to editors
Healthy Eating Week has been developed by the British Nutrition Foundation and is supported by the Agriculture Horticulture Development Board (EBLEX, BPEX, Potato Council and DairyCo), The Garfield Weston Foundation, Red Tractor, the National Farmers Union and Seafish.
British Nutrition Foundation – making nutrition science accessible to all. BNF was established over 45 years ago and exists to deliver authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition in the context of health and lifestyle. Our core purpose is to make nutrition science accessible to all. The Foundation’s work is conducted and communicated through a unique blend of nutrition science, education and media activities. BNF’s strong governance is broad-based but weighted towards the academic community. BNF is a registered charity that attracts funding from a variety of sources, including contracts with the European Commission, national government departments and agencies; membership; donations and project grants from food producers and manufacturers, retailers and food service companies; funding from grant providing bodies, trusts and other charities. Information about our funding, governance and work can be found on our website (www.nutrition.org.uk) and in our Annual Reports.