One in four secondary school children say they start the day without breakfast, and over two thirds (65 percent) of children aged from 5 to 16 years are not drinking enough, according to research conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) among over 8,800 school children from across the UK.
The survey was conducted as part of BNF’s Healthy Eating Week 2015, launched today by HRH The Princess Royal. Over 7,400 nursery, primary and secondary schools across the UK are participating in the Week, during which a quarter* (2.5 million) of all the UK’s school aged children will be learning valuable lessons about healthy eating, cooking, food provenance and the benefits of physical activity.
The data shows that 24 percent of secondary school children and 14 percent of their teachers did not have breakfast on the day of the survey, despite widespread knowledge of the importance of breakfast. 12 percent of secondary school children admit to eating breakfast only when they feel like it. Encouragingly, breakfast appears to play a larger role in primary school children’s diets, with 92 percent of 5-11 year olds having breakfast every day (although a quarter said that they did not have a drink).
Roy Ballam, Education Programme Manager at BNF said: “This research provides a valuable annual barometer of the knowledge and behaviour of children and their teachers in relation to food, healthy eating and lifestyle.
“Children need enough food and water to enable them to play an active part in school life and achieve their potential, and these results show that many young people are potentially unable to perform to the best of their ability, or take an active part in school life.
During the research, 66 percent of primary school children and 65 percent of secondary school pupils told the BNF that they are consuming less than six drinks each day; 6-8 drinks (1.5-2L) being the recommended daily amount. An alarming third of all children, and nearly half (48 percent) of their teachers, said they are consuming less than half of the recommended number of drinks**, a consequence of which may be lack of concentration, headaches and tiredness, according to BNF.
In the BNF survey 46 percent of teachers said that the drinks they have the most of are tea and coffee. Among 12-16 year olds, 41 percent said they have water the most, with 10 percent claiming they consume more tea and coffee than any other drinks. Just 6% of secondary children told us that they consume soft drinks the most – this contrasts with data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS)***, which shows that 27 percent (by volume) of the drinks consumed by children aged 11-18 years are sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
Ballam said: “With continued concerns about sugars intakes in older children in particular, we need to ensure that young people make healthy choices when it comes to drinks. The ‘drink plenty’ challenge within Healthy Eating Week underlines this, encouraging participants to go for water, fruit juice or milk-based drinks instead of sugar-sweetened drinks****”.
Healthy Eating Week Challenges
To stimulate improvements in diet and lifestyle habits, BNF’s Healthy Eating Week will be setting participating schools a series of five challenges: Have Breakfast, Have 5 A Day, Drink Plenty, Try Something New, and Get Active.
The Get Active challenge will target children with achieving the recommended level of at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, while adults will be challenged to be active for the recommended minimum of 150 minutes during the week. BNF’s research shows that awareness of these recommended levels of activity is relatively high among children, with 57 percent of 5-11 year olds and 56% percentage of 12-16 year olds believing that 60 or 90 minutes each day is the optimum. However, answers recorded from teachers participating in the survey show that only 29 percent of them are aware of the 150 minute recommendation for adults.
When questioned about what might stop them from being physically active, a massive 80 percent of secondary school children and 84 percent of teachers cite a lack of time and motivation. On the positive side, nearly a quarter (23 percent of 12-16 year olds and 27 percent of teachers say that nothing stops them from being physically active.
Ballam said: “Healthy Eating Week will challenge children and their teachers to achieve a number of targets each day of the week and it will be really interesting to see how they get on!”
5 A Day
BNF’s research illustrates that the ‘5 a day’ message is getting through, with the majority of children having a good understanding of how many portions of fruit and vegetables they should be eating. There is, however, a gap between knowledge and behaviour; just 38 percent of primary school children and 29 percent of secondary school children recorded answers which suggest they believe that they are reaching the required levels and above. However, the NDNS shows that in fact only 9 percent of children aged 11-15 years are achieving 5 A Day; average daily intakes in this age group are 2.9 portions. Alarmingly, more than one in every ten school children (12 percent of primary school children and 11 percent of secondary school children) said they eat no fruit or vegetables at all.
When examining which fruits and vegetables contribute to their 5 a day, more than half of primary and secondary school children (63 percent and 53 percent respectively) wrongly believe that potatoes count towards their 5 a day (potatoes are classed as a starchy food). However, 66 percent of secondary school children and 73 percent of teachers correctly identify sweet potatoes as a 5 a day vegetable.
Food choice factors
When asked about factors that may affect their food choice, the research results suggest that teachers are more influenced by ethical and provenance issues than their secondary school students. 84 percent of teachers say they are or may be more likely to buy or eat food produced in the UK; this rises to 90 percent for food produced locally. This compares with 66 percent and 64 percent respectively for secondary school children. Teachers (95 percent) and students (83 percent) alike claim to be influenced by price when choosing which foods to buy.
Where food comes from
While the majority of learning about food production takes place at school (71 percent of secondary school children and 48 percent of primary school children), over half (56 percent) of secondary school pupils claim to learn about how food is produced from the TV, while more than two thirds (63 percent) learn from the internet or social media. For younger children the influence of the internet is less evident, with 11 percent learning about food production from websites, while 16 percent are getting information from books.
Try something new
During BNF’s research school children and teachers were asked to identify the things they have not done before from a list. The results show that the thing most commonly not experienced by all respondents is growing their own food, a third of all primary school and secondary school children (28 percent and 27 percent respectively) and nearly a fifth of teachers (19 percent) have never grown food.
Ballam concluded: “Schools play a vital role in educating children about all aspects of food, nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle. BNF’s Healthy Eating Week has become an important event in the school calendar and the free school resources we provide are gratefully received as stimulus materials in the classroom. We hope that they will help all involved to improve their knowledge and behaviour and that this improvement will be evident in next year’s Healthy Eating Week research.”
High res photos available on request.
For further information contact Alison Taylor at: [email protected] or 07775 925 452.
* Based on 7,400 schools registered to participate in Healthy Eating Week, as 24 percent of a total of 29,785 schools in the UK [source: www.gov.uk, www.deni.gov.uk, www.gov.scot and www.gov.wales]
** Suggested consumption for children 6-8 drinks a day; for adults 8-10 drinks a day, based on Dietary Reference Values for water from the European Food Safety Authority
*** The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) Rolling Programme, funded by the government, assesses the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general population in the UK.
**** Depending on the location and type of school in the UK, food and drink standards/guidelines are in place. For example, in England, the School Food Plan guidelines specify healthier drinks, which include drinking water available at all times, lower fat milk, fruit/vegetable juice (max 150ml), combinations of juice and water or milk, tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
Healthy Eating Week has been developed by the British Nutrition Foundation and is this year supported by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (DairyCo), Danone, The National Farmers Union, KP Snacks, Associated British Foods, Capespan and Seafish.
The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), a registered charity, delivers impartial, authoritative and evidence-based information on food and nutrition. Its core purpose is to make nutrition science accessible to all, working with an extensive network of contacts across academia, education and the food chain, and through BNF work programmes focussing on education in schools and nutrition science communication. The key role of BNF’s Council and Trustees is to ensure that the Foundation delivers its charitable aims, is impartial, transparent and acts with integrity. BNF’s Articles of Association require a majority of Council’s members to be leading academics from the nutrition science community, supported by leaders in education, communication and the food chain. BNF’s funding comes from a variety of sources including EU projects; contracts with national government departments and agencies; conferences, publications and training; membership subscriptions; donations and project grants from food producers and manufacturers, retailers and food service companies; funding from grant providing bodies, trusts and other charities. BNF is not a lobbying organisation nor does it endorse any products or engage in food advertising campaigns. More details about BNF’s work, funding and governance can be found at www.nutrition.org.uk/aboutbnf.