Doctors fears for Scottish child health timebomb

It's not just children who have an aversion to healthy eating - one in ten adults admits eating no fruit and veg at all.
It's not just children who have an aversion to healthy eating - one in ten adults admits eating no fruit and veg at all.
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DOCTORS last night expressed alarm at new figures showing that only 14 per cent of children in Scotland are currently eating their “five-a-day” of fruit and vegetables.

The poor dietary habits of the country’s two to 15-year-olds came to light in the annual Scottish Health Survey, which also revealed that adults are eating badly.

The British Medical Association renewed its call for free portions of fruit and vegetables to be provided to primary school pupils following the release of the survey yesterday.

Published by the Scottish Government, its findings were based on a survey of 4,659 adults and 1,668 children in 2014.

Despite Scotland facing severe problems with obesity, it suggested little was being done to improve matters for the coming generations.

On average, children aged two to 15 consumed 2.8 fruit and vegetables a day – some way short of the five required for a properly balanced diet. Of the 2.8 portions, 1.5 were made up of fruit and 0.9 were vegetables.

Overall, just 14 per cent met the five-a-day requirement.

The picture was not much better when it came to grown-ups. Adults consumed an average of 3.1 portions of fruit and vegetables a day in 2014, consisting of 1.5 portions of fruit, 1.4 portions of vegetables and 0.3 portions of fruit juice. Only one in five adults met the five-a-day recommendations, while one in ten did not consume any fruit or vegetables at all.

Women consumed slightly more fruit and vegetables than men. Younger adults tended to eat less fruit than older people, but similar amounts of vegetables.

Fruit and vegetable consumption was lower among adults and children living in the most deprived areas, and steadily increased as deprivation declined.

There was also a clear pattern of higher levels of obesity in adults in the most deprived areas compared with the least. According to the BMA, the research indicated child fruit and vegetable consumption had seen no improvement since 2003.

Dr Andrew Thomson, who sits on the BMA’s board of science, said: “This latest survey shows Scotland is still falling some way short when it comes to making sure children are eating enough fruit and vegetables.

“Despite the growing cost of obesity-related conditions to the NHS, there has been no real improvement to the average amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by children in Scotland for over a decade.”

Dr Thomson added that primary school pupils should receive free fruit and vegetables as a way of tackling the problem.

“Introducing an entitlement for all primary school pupils to receive a free portion of fruit or vegetables on every school day would be a real step forward and would help to ensure children in Scotland live healthier lives,” he said.

Last week, the BMA published an opinion poll of 2,000 parents across the UK showing that 77 per cent would support or strongly support the introduction of a free portion of fruit or vegetables for every primary age child on each school day.

At the moment 11 councils – fewer than half of Scotland’s 32 local authorities – offer free fruit and vegetables beyond school meals. The council areas with free fruit and vegetable schemes currently in place are Aberdeen, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Dundee, East Lothian, Fife, Inverclyde, Midlothian, North Lanarkshire, Orkney Islands, Perth and Kinross and South Lanarkshire.

According to the BMA, the local authorities that have scrapped their free fruit and vegetable schemes since 2013-14 are Edinburgh, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, Shetland Islands and South Ayrshire.

The current situation is a backward step from the position in 2013-14 when 16 local authorities gave out the healthy snacks. More evidence of unhealthy diets was found in statistics showing a third of Scottish men eat ice cream once a week and chips at least twice, with their waistlines bulging more than women’s.

Just over a quarter (26 per cent) of women eat ice-cream at least once a week and a quarter (25 per cent) eat chips twice or more in seven days, while for men the figures are 33 per cent and 37 per cent respectively.

Men were more likely to eat more foods high in fat and/or sugar than women, as well as more red or processed meat. Women are more likely to consume oily fish or tuna regularly.

Men were found to be more likely than women to be overweight.

Amongst children, 68 per cent of two to 15-year-olds were of a healthy weight last year, a level that has not changed much since 1998.

More encouragingly, average weekly alcohol consumption has declined from 19.8 units a week for men and nine units for women in 2003, to 13.6 and 7.4, respectively, in 2014. The proportion of both men and women who do not consume alcohol has increased, from 8 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women in 2003, to 14 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women in 2014.

Last night a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While local authorities are responsible for the food available in schools, nutritional regulations stipulate that at least two types of vegetables and two types of fruit are provided every day as part of the school lunch.”