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BNF school nutrition report marks "room for improvement"

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn , 29-Jan-2014
Last updated on 29-Jan-2014 at 13:38 GMT

BNF: there is a “stark socio-economic gradient” surrounding childhood obesity in the UK
BNF: there is a “stark socio-economic gradient” surrounding childhood obesity in the UK

Although some progression has been made, there remains considerable room for improvement in the diets of British schoolchildren, according to a report from the British Nutrition Foundation.  

The latest research is an update to an initial report back in 2011.

The report led by the industry-backed charity’s director general, Professor Judith Buttriss, found that the intake of saturated fatty acids and sugars remain above recommended upper levels, fat to total energy intake has dropped and fibre intakes remain low among schoolchildren.

The report, published in the journal Nutrition Bulletin, also outlines a “stark socio-economic gradient” in obesity rates in children and teenagers.

Saturated fat and added sugars too high

The average contribution of fat to total energy intake has dropped below the recommended upper level of 35%, yet the report said intake of saturated fat and added sugars were still too high. The recommended upper level of energy intake is 11%, however average intakes for saturated fat stand at 13.3% of energy in 4-10 year olds and 12.6% for 11-18 year olds.

For added sugars the recommended upper level is the same but in reality intakes make up 14.6% of energy in 4-10 years olds and 15.3% in children aged 11-18. The report also found that overall average fibre intakes were lower than the recommended levels for children.

Socio-economic inequalities

The BNF said that evidence suggested socio-economic inequalities were influencing the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed. It said that children from families with lower incomes tend to have lower intakes of around 2.9 portions a day, in contrast to children from higher income families who consumed around 3.9 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The report also said that obesity remains a major problem among British schoolchildren, with almost 10% of children obese when they start reception class and 20% by the age of 11.

BNF said this was influenced by a stark socio-economic gradient, with the most socially deprived children exhibiting the highest levels of obesity. “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,” it said.

Influencing policy

The researchers suggest that the findings should be taken to highlight the importance of good nutrition through the school curriculum and the food and drink available in schools.

A new school curriculum for England published in 2013 will see food and nutrition education becoming compulsory from the age of 5 to 14 years from September this year.

BNF said: “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.”

Source: Nutrition Bulletin
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/nbu.12071
“Diet, nutrition and schoolchildren: An update”
Authors: E. Weichselbaum and J.L. Buttriss

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