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Diet, nutrition and schoolchildren: An update

BNF has published a review on 'Diet, nutrition and schoolchildren' which is available to download free of charge at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nbu.12071/abstract

The main findings of this review are as follows:

  • Healthy eating and being physically active are particularly important for children and adolescents. This is because their nutrition and lifestyle influence their wellbeing, growth and development.
  • There is a glimmer of hope that childhood obesity rates are plateauing and some improvements to nutrient intakes have been made in the past decade. But there remains considerable room for improvement in the diets of British schoolchildren, according to findings of the government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS).
  • On the positive side, average contribution of fat to total energy intake has dropped below the recommended upper level of 35% but intakes of saturated fat and added sugars are too high. For saturated fat, average intakes are 13.3% of energy in 4-10 year olds and 12.6% of energy in 11-18 year-olds, compared to the recommended upper level of 11% of energy intake. For non-milk extrinsic sugars (sometimes loosely referred to as ‘added sugars’), intakes are 14.6% of energy in 4-10 years olds and 15.3% in those aged 11-18 years, compared to the recommended upper level of 11% of energy. Average fibre intakes are also lower than recommended.
  • It is perhaps less well recognised that there is evidence of inadequate micronutrient intakes in some groups in the UK, especially teenagers. For example, many teenage girls (11-18 years) are consuming low amounts of iron (46% below the LRNI) and there is also evidence of low intakes of vitamin A (14% below the LRNI), riboflavin (21% below the LRNI), calcium (18% below the LRNI), magnesium (51% below the LRNI), potassium (31% below the LRNI), selenium (45% below the LRNI), iodine (21% below the LRNI) and zinc (19% below the LRNI). In contrast, micronutrient intakes in younger children are generally not of concern. [The LRNI, lower reference nutrient intake, is the amount judged to be sufficient for only 2.5% of the population].
  • Around 20% of 11-18 year olds appear to have low blood vitamin D levels according to the NDNS. Low vitamin D intake and status is a particular problem in some ethnic minority groups, especially South Asian children.
  • There is some evidence of socio-economic inequalities; for example, children from families with lower incomes tend to have lower intakes of fruits and vegetables (2.9 portions a day) compared with children from families with higher incomes (3.9 portions per day).
  • Physical activity levels vary little between the UK regions, with the exception of Northern Ireland where fewer children meet the UK recommendations than in other regions. The data highlight significant differences between boys and girls (with girls generally being less active). In data from the Health Survey for England, half of boys aged 4-10 years achieved the recommended ‘at least 60 minutes a day’, but this fell to 7% in older boys. In younger girls, a third met the target, but in girls aged 11-15 years, none achieved the target and 96% had low activity levels. There are also significant differences between ethnic groups. In particular, children from the Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani ethnic groups are less likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity compared with other children.
  • Obesity remains a major problem among British schoolchildren and there is a stark socio-economic gradient, with levels of obesity being highest in the most socially deprived children. In children aged 5, rates of obesity ranged from 6.8% in the least deprived to 12.3% in the most deprived. In an older age group (11 year olds), obesity prevalence is 13.7% in the least deprived group and 24.3% in the most deprived. Almost 1 in 10 English children are obese when they start school (Reception class)and 2 in 10 are obese by age 11.
  • These findings serve to emphasise the importance of highlighting good nutrition through the school curriculum and through the food and drink available in schools. School food provision has seen many changes over recent years, with school food standards now in place in all UK regions, most recently in Wales. Evaluations of the impact of school food standards, mainly in England, have shown improvements in the diets of schoolchildren since these were implemented, not only in the school setting but in their diets overall. However, there still remains room for improvement.
  • The recently published School Food Plan emphasises that a whole school approach is required to effectively and sustainably change eating habits of schoolchildren. In addition to school food standards, which ensure that healthy food is provided at schools, schoolchildren also need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to select and prepare healthy food throughout life.
  • During 2013, a new school curriculum for England was published. From September 2014, food and nutrition education will be compulsory from the age of 5 to 14 years, to complement the work that has been done on improving food served at school. While aspects of nutrition will be included in science, the new compulsory aspects will include a focus on learning where food comes from and applied healthy eating and cooking through Design and Technology. In other parts of the UK, food, nutrition and cooking have been long standing components of the school curriculum.
  • To support the new aspects of the curriculum, BNF is developing a comprehensive suite of lesson plans and resources to support schools in delivering cooking and nutrition. In addition, BNF is providing professional training events for teachers to update their knowledge about the new curriculum, nutrition and resources available. For further details, go to: http://www.foodafactoflife.org.uk/section.aspx?t=0&siteId=20§ionId=118

 

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