UK intake of omega-3s and iron still too low, survey

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Oily fish, Nutrition

A new national diet nutrition survey (NDNS) in the UK has found that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and fibre is still below the recommended amounts, and iron intake among females is still too low but intakes of vitamins A and C from foods are higher.

The new NDNS, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), builds on a similar series of surveys carried out between 1992 and 2001, and the agency said the aim of the new programme is to have a continuous analysis of food consumption, nutrient intakes and nutritional status of people in the UK aged 18 months and older.

The FSA said past surveys had looked only at specific age groups, but it decided to change the system so it could measure changes over a period of time

The agency claims the latest findings, which cover the period from February 2008 to June 2009 and included a sample size of 1,100 adults and children, show that the overall picture of the diet and nutrition of the UK population is broadly similar to the previous surveys, with suggestions of positive changes.

“Importantly though, the findings do not identify any new or emerging nutritional problems in the general population,”​ stated the FSA.

The results, released yesterday, shows that people are still not eating enough fibre, essential for healthy digestion, with intakes on average being 14g per day for adults, some way below the recommended 18g.

And consumption of oily fish, which is the main source of omega-3 fatty acids, remains below the recommended one portion per week.

However, the report notes that decreases in oily fish compared with previous surveys are partly due to reclassification of canned tuna, which had been included with oily fish in previous NDNS but is now classified with other white fish and dishes.

“The absence of canned tuna from the oily fish results makes comparisons with oily fish data from earlier NDNS reports difficult. However, oily fish consumption is still low,”​ said the agency.

The results also show that iron intake among teenage girls and women is still low.

Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health at the FSA, said that the results provide the agency with an interesting snapshot of the national diet, and will allow it to track emerging trends over future years.

“The evidence from this and from further surveys will help us and other government departments formulate policy to address the issues that have been raised,”​ she added.

Intakes of vitamins and minerals from foods were recorded, which were all similar to intakes found in previous NDNS surveys except in the cases of vitamins A and C, said the FSA. It said this could be partially explained by the inclusion of Sundays in the survey due to the increased consumption of vegetables on that day.

The agency added that the recorded higher intake of vitamin C in all groups except older girls in comparison to previous surveys could be due to the fact that there was higher fruit juice consumption in all groups expect women and older girls.

And intakes of selenium from foods, which have not been reported before, fell below the recommended levels in older children and adults, states the report.

The agency said that dietary intake of nutrients from supplements was not included in the survey’s findings but that the proportion of individuals taking supplements was collated, and the results show that the level of supplement use is similar to that reported in previous surveys.

The two most common types of supplements consumed in all age groups were fish oils (including cod liver oil) and multivitamins and/or minerals, it added.

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