Food supplements left out in the cold by UK dietary survey

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Supplements can help make up widespread dietary 'five-a-day' fruit and veg shortfalls
Supplements can help make up widespread dietary 'five-a-day' fruit and veg shortfalls

Related tags Food supplements Nutrition

The food supplements industry has expressed disappointment it was not given more credence in the face of a recent UK Department of Health (DOH) dietary survey that highlighted several significant dietary shortfalls.

Professor David Richardson, the scientific adviser at the UK Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), said food supplements could help bridge many nutritional gaps.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to achieve appropriate intakes of vitamins and minerals,”​ he said.

“However, the UK NDNS continues to demonstrate areas of nutritional concern, and population groups at risk include the elderly, women at various life stages, children and adolescents. Messages about the importance of a varied diet and a healthy lifestyle should continue to underpin nutrition advice given to the public, but much more could be done to give consistent advice regarding the role of food supplements so that they form part of the strategic advice for dietary intervention for vulnerable groups and can contribute beneficially to help control costs of healthcare and promote health and quality of life.”

“Suboptimal intakes and deficiencies of micronutrients such as vitamins A and D, the B vitamins folate and riboflavin, and the mineral iron are common, and in many cases the likelihood is that nutritional problems relate to multiple nutrient deficiencies and suboptimal intakes.”

Supplements support

Graham Keen, executive director of the Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA) agreed, noting only one third of adults were meeting fruit and vegetable five-a-day targets – much less for children.

“This new survey by the Department of Health confirms what we have been saying all along, that basic guidelines, such as consuming adequate levels of fruit and vegetables every day, are being ignored by the majority of the population,” ​he said.

“However, it also confirms that there is widespread use of supplementation for providing key nutritional support, with 25% of the people taking at least one supplement each day.”

Richardson added that while the DOH survey and recommendations did little to promote supplements use, the position was far from unanimous.

“The UK government and health professionals already recognise the need for the use of food supplements in certain targeted population groups,”​ he said. “However, significant proportions of the general population are failing to achieve adequate intakes of several micronutrients. There is a need to promote better awareness of the potential role of food supplements in supporting a varied and balanced diet and to help improve the nutritional status of vulnerable groups and the general population in the UK.”

True value

HFMA's Keen did not dispute that the normal diet was the best place to gain nutrients. “In an ideal world, our diet would provide us with all the vitamins and minerals that our body needs,"​ he said. "But this survey is yet another one which shows that a significant proportion of the UK population simply isn’t achieving nutritional sufficiency through diet alone. This is where food supplements show their true value.”

The DOH survey found 19-64 year old adults consumed on average 4.2 portions of fruit and vegetables per day and older adults (4.4 portions for over-65s), compared to the five-a-day Department of Health (D0H) target. That meant 30% of adults and 37% of older adults met the five-a-day recommendation.

But children’s habits were worse with 11-18 year old boys only getting 3.1 portions, and only 13% meeting the target, while girls of the same age consumed 2.7 portions on average with just 7% meeting the recommendation.

The survey can be found here.

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