Are children in the UK getting the right nutrition?

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

The report makes several recommendations for child nutrition between ages 1-5. Image Source: Images By Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images
The report makes several recommendations for child nutrition between ages 1-5. Image Source: Images By Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

Related tags child nutrition child development

A new report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) delves into the nutritional quality of the diets of UK children aged between 1 and 5, and explores what can be done to improve it.

The report, put together by advisors to the UK Government on nutrition and health-related matters, considers how to combat obesity in children, as well as to ensure that they get the right nutrition necessary to grow.

The findings

The report found that the national intake among young children of free sugars and saturated fats is above the recommended amount, and the intake of dietary fibre is below the recommended amount.

Salt intake was above the recommended daily intake for 76% of children, specifically between ages 1 and 4.  

The report also found some clear links between certain food types and negative health outcomes for children aged 1-5. For example, a higher consumption of sugary beverages is more likely to lead to an increased body mass index (BMI), as is a higher-than-recommended intake of protein.

Some of these findings were linked to large food portions in preschool settings, which could provide children with higher amounts of many of these things than they are recommended to have.

The most serious findings in overweight and obesity were linked to lower socioeconomic status, which also aligned with a low consumption of fruit and vegetables These children are specifically not getting enough iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin D.  

Another finding was that foods created specifically for children aged 12-18 months accounted for 20% of this group’s free sugars intake. A previous Public Health England evidence review (from 2019) found that they did not match the nutritional recommendations for children of this age group.  

There was also moderate evidence for some more positive findings. For example, the research found that increased taste exposure to vegetables, in about four fifths of cases, translates into increased short-term vegetable consumption (around eight months).


The report made a number of recommendations. It suggested that as children between 1 and 2 get older, their diet should be gradually diversified in foods, textures and dietary fibres, although the level of diversity is dependent on the individual child.

At the age of 2, they should start conforming to the recommendations of the NHS’ Eatwell Guide, albeit with a few exceptions.

For example, milk and water should be the majority of the drinks given to children throughout the entirety of the age group analysed in the report (1-5). However, they should not be given skimmed milk, as it does not provide the vitamins the child needs, and they should not be given sugar-sweetened drinks as free sugars can be harmful.  

The report suggests that energy dense foods high in salt, saturated fat and free sugars should be limited for this age group. For example, children aged 1-3 should have no more than 2g of salt each day, which goes up to 3g for children aged 4-6.

It stressed that commercially manufactured foods that target young children are not necessary to fulfil nutritional guidelines.

It is important that children are presented with an abundance of different unfamiliar vegetables, so they get use to eating them. They should be given a wide variety of foods which contain iron (if this happens, they will not require iron supplements).

Peanuts and hens’ eggs should be introduced into the diet early so as to reduce the likelihood of the child developing an allergy.

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