DESPITE a growing obsession with "aspirational" food and fancy recipes from celebrity chefs, parents are failing to make sure their children eat healthily.
A government-backed report warned yesterday that good intentions were often not backed by good actions, and pointed to alarming signs that children were developing diet-related illnesses such as diabetes at an alarmingly young age.
Youngsters consumed less than half the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, according to the interim report "Food: an analysis of the issues".
Researchers found a quarter of 11 to 15 year-olds were now classed as obese and revealed soaring rates of type 2 diabetes among children.
While the British public is more obsessed with food than ever – with growing numbers of cookery shows cramming the TV schedules and a plethora of chefs' books on sale – few people manage to cook from scratch.
Carina Norris, a Fife-based author and the nutritionist for Channel 4's Turn Back Your Body Clock, said the prevalence of TV chefs had failed to teach adults how to cook for their families.
"People are watching celebrity chef shows for entertainment rather than trying to cook for themselves," she said. "It is more a spectator sport than an activity."
She also said some recipes promoted by TV chefs were too indulgent for daily life.
"If you look at some of the ingredients, they are very much 'treat' meals rather than routine ones. Maybe that's because, if you had celebrity chefs making basic home-cooked food, then it would not be seen as entertainment."
Ms Norris is researching children's eating habits for her PhD and has found that young people consume the majority of their calories in between meals, through "grazing".
A glance at some of the recipes promoted by celebrities for families shows many contain far more calories and fats than the daily recommended allowance.
Even a recipe for what appears to be ordinary shepherd's pie by Gordon Ramsay contains 24.8g of saturated fat in a single serving – 124 per cent of the recommended daily amount – and more than half the recommended daily intake of calories.
The paper, from the Prime Minister's strategy unit at the Cabinet Office, said the fact people were eating out more meant they were consuming diets higher in fat and calories.
The report also underlined how people were failing to cook from scratch. It said: "There is a gap between what people say and what they do. The intention-action gap is manifest in positive attitudes to healthy eating and the environment not being matched by spending patterns.
"Children are probably the most vulnerable and at highest risk of significant future diet-related ill health."
The UK's bad eating habits lead to 70,000 premature deaths a year – 10 per cent of the national mortality rate.
However, boosting fruit and vegetable consumption to the recommended five pieces per day could cut 42,200 premature deaths a year, the report said.
Reducing daily salt intake from the average 9g to the recommended maximum of 6g could reduce the death toll by 20,200. And cutting excess saturated fat and sugar intakes could save 7,000 deaths.
The paper pointed out that people were actually consuming fewer calories than 30 years ago, but too much energy was taken from high-fat or sugary products, such as soft drinks, pies, cakes and crisps. Coupled with too little physical activity or exercise, that meant the energy intake and actual energy use were out of balance for many people.
The report found that the healthiest eaters – and those most likely to cook from scratch – were women aged 50 to 64.
Overall, unhealthy eating is costing the NHS 10 billion a year and the nation 20 billion in lost benefits from good health. The report comes ahead of the release of an anti-obesity strategy later this month.
SNAPSHOT OF THE NATION'S DIET
• UK spending on food has increased five-fold in 30 years while national disposable income has increased 12-fold.
• Consumers spend less income on eating in the home than they did 40 years ago.
• There is no firm evidence to suggest that the family meal is in decline. One study found the majority of family meals are still eaten together and increasingly, in the dining room and in the kitchen.
• An average 11.41 per person per week is spent on eating out. Consumer expenditure on eating out hit 27.6 billion in 2005, a real-term growth of 29 per cent in ten years.
• Mid-market establishments have been offering healthier dishes and integrating nutritional food labelling on to their menu.
• But food eaten out tends to be higher in added sugars, and slightly higher in fat content.
• Boosting fruit and vegetable consumption to the recommended five pieces per day could cut as many as 42,200 premature deaths each year.
• Reducing daily salt intake from the average 9g to the recommended maximum of 6g could reduce the death toll by 20,200 annually.
• Cutting excess saturated fat and sugar intakes could mean 7,000 deaths being avoided each year.
• Women aged 50 to 64 years come closest to hitting the recommended diet and also eat the least fat and added sugar.
• Only three per cent of children and 15 per cent of adults from a low income background reported eating oily fish.
• The largest single source of added sugar in the average child's diet is soft drinks.
• On average children only eat 2.5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2lb lean minced lamb
2 cups onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons flour
7oz red wine
2 oz worcestershire sauce
1 litre chicken stock
2lb boiled potatoes
2 egg yolks
freshly ground pepper, salt
Tagliatelle With Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto
3lb roasting chicken
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh rosemary sprigs, minced
1/3 cup sultanas, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1lb tagliatelle pasta noodles (if you can't find that, fettucini will do quite nicely.)
2-3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
CALORIES: 1,511 (per serving)
One packet puff pastry
110g/4oz soft cheese
50g/2oz caster sugar
5 Snickers bars, chopped roughly.
FAT: 22 teaspoons