Kevan Christie: Five-a-day sounds catchy but it still hasn't caught on

The debate around how many portions of fruit and vegetables we are supposed to eat on a daily basis has intensified with the results of the Scottish Health Survey which show consumption is at its lowest level since 2003.
Only 13 per cent of children aged 2 to 15 meet the five-a-day fruit and vegetable recommendation.Only 13 per cent of children aged 2 to 15 meet the five-a-day fruit and vegetable recommendation.
Only 13 per cent of children aged 2 to 15 meet the five-a-day fruit and vegetable recommendation.

The Scottish Government figures suggest that most adults manage an average of three portions per day, so we’re still a couple of bananas short of the full bunch.

However, the latest advice based on a major global study which was featured in the Lancet, found that three portions of fruit and vegetables are as good as five at boosting life expectancy. Research on more than 130,000 adults found that “a modest level of consumption” was enough to cut death rates by more than a fifth.

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Those eating three portions a day had the same mortality rates as people having five or more - but the key to this was the size of the serving, with raw vegetables providing the best gains.

So it looks like we’ve been setting our sights a bit high which is good news for Scots but doesn’t exactly provide us with a ‘Get out of Fruit Free’ card.

It’s surprising that the survey for 2016 relied on what appears to be outdated information to bash us all over the head with, given that the original 5-A-Day campaign started in 1994 with the aim of lowering the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

The advice 23 years ago came from no less a source than the World Health Organisation but they may have overcooked the guidance. The survey found daily fruit and vegetable consumption was lowest for those aged 16-24 (2.5 portions) and highest among those aged 55-64 (3.3 portions).

It makes sense that those in middle-age have had the wake-up call and take a lot more interest in their health and wellbeing than teenagers and those in their early twenties.

But worryingly, only 13 per cent of children aged 2-15 met the 5-a-day fruit and vegetable recommendation, a figure that has remained relatively stable since 2008. This provides cause for concern given that the survey identified children as consuming more food high in fat and sugar than adults.

They are also twice as likely as adults to eat sweets, chocolate or crisps at least once a day but there would be an element of balance to this if we could just get them to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Schools are a good place for children to be educated on eating healthy and I believe some offer pupils free fruit - but obviously they can’t force them to eat it.

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The Scottish Government are welcoming the fact there’s an increase in the number of children who are physically active and although this is good, it forms only part of the nation’s health story and diet plays a crucial role in the greater holistic picture.

Predictably, the research identified that those who live in the most deprived areas of Scotland have poorer health than those living in the least deprived areas. Study after study identifies this, yet the gap between rich and poor never seems to narrow.

This leaves children in these areas at a severe disadvantage with mum and dad far more likely to reach for the cigarettes than the fruit bowl.

So, despite the best intentions of the Scottish Government and catchy campaigns like making us the world’s first Daily Mile nation, the disparity grows.

Unless real action is taken to limit the marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, hitting any kind of fruit and veg target is a pipe dream.