- What constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle?
- Current trends
- Barriers to a healthy diet and lifestyle
- The consequences of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle
- Implications for food and beverage manufacturers and retailers
What constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle?
A healthy diet and regular physical activity are major factors in the promotion and maintenance of good health.
The UK's Department of Health has eight guidelines for healthy eating:
- Base your meals on starchy foods
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
- Eat more fish
- Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
- Try to eat less salt - no more than 6g a day
- Get active and try to be a healthy weight
- Drink plenty of water
- Don't skip breakfast
In the UK, recommendations for adequate physical activity include:
- At least 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise for children
- At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on five or more days a week for the adult population
- Between 45 and 60 minutes moderate-intensity physical activity each day to prevent obesity
Unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are major risk factors for chronic diseases because they can result in people becoming overweight and lead to obesity.
On average, the amount that people in the UK weigh has increased over the past few decades. Today, 61.3% of all adults are currently overweight or obese, as well as 23% of 4-5 year olds and 33.3% of 10-11 year olds (Health Survey for England 2009 and National Child Measurement Programme 2009-10).
Improving dietary habits is an issue for the whole of society, not just individuals. As such it demands an approach that is population-based, multi-discipline and culturally relevant.
Consumption of fruit and vegetables
The UK's National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that adults were consuming an average of 4.2 portions of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Just 30% of adults and 37% of older adults met the five-a-day recommendation.
Mean consumption among children was 3.1 portions for boys and 2.7 for girls. Only 13% of boys and 7% of girls met the five-a-day recommendation.
Partaking in sporting activities
According to the Active People Survey, commissioned by the Department of Health (2010-2011), only 21% of adults are taking part in exercise the recommended five times a week.
In 2011 it was found that only 32% of boys and 24% of girls (aged 2-15) in England were achieving the recommended 60 minutes of moderate activity every day (Start Active, Stay Active. the Department of Health 2011).
For school pupils aged 1-13, in 2010-2011 only 117 minutes per week were spent on curriculum PE (the Information Centre).
Working longer hours
Barriers to exercise include working longer hours. Of those in full time employment in the UK the average working week is 42.7 hours (Office of National Statistics 2011).
At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of hours devoted to sedentary activities. For example, in the mid-1990s the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys estimated that the average person in England watched more than 26 hours of television a week, compared with 13 hours in the 1960s.
In a recent survey more than two thirds of adults watched more than two hours of TV on a weekday. The figure was even higher among men on a weekend (Start Active, Stay Active, the Department of Health 2011).
Barriers to a healthy diet and lifestyle
Despite the growing focus on healthy eating witnessed over the past 25 years, there is still an upward trend in terms of numbers of obese and overweight people. There are clearly several reasons for this. but one of the barriers that may be preventing consumers from changing their diet is an inaccurate perception of what constitutes ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’.
Results from IGD consumer research suggested that there is a trend among consumers to compare themselves to the average size of the population. So as the population gets bigger, the size deemed acceptable could also get bigger.
Other barriers to change may include the belief that healthy food is more expensive, the increase in eating on-the-go and the perceived unavailability of suitable healthy options. There might even be too much conflicting and confusing information about what constitites a healthy diet, and it may also be true that many consumers do not give health much thought at the point of purchase.
A lack of time appears to be a major barrier to both healthy eating and physical activity. For example, IGD research has found that more than half of the UK public (55%) chooses to spend 30 minutes or less preparing and cooking the main meal, while one in 10 people spends less than 10 minutes.
Some 45% of men state ‘work commitments’ as a barrier to increasing physical activity and 37% of women state ‘a lack of leisure time’ (the Information Centre, 2012).
Healthy eating is only one component of a healthy lifestyle. Other lifestyle issues also have an important impact on health and wellbeing. Alcohol is a regular feature of many people's eating and drinking regimes, while binge drinking is a common phenomenon in the UK, particularly among younger people.
Physical activity can reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases, as well as being important for muscle and bone health and maintaining a healthy body weight. The government is already investing in improving opportunities for physical activity, including the setting up of an Activity Co-ordination Team, the aim of which is to increase participation in sport and physical activity to 70% of the population by 2020.
The government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, launched in 2011, sets out core commitments and pledges, including the encouragement of physical activity and facilitating effective partnerships across the physical activity sector.
The consequences of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle
Unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are two of the main risk factors for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.
According to the World Health Report 2002:
- Low intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause about 11% of ischemic heart disease deaths, 9% of stroke deaths and 14% of deaths from gastrointestinal cancer
- Overall, 1.7 million deaths are attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake
- Physical inactivity is estimated to cause about 21-25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes mellitus cases and about 30% of cases of heart disease
- Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death globally
Implications for food and beverage manufacturers and retailers
The increasing consumer, media and government focus on health and diet means the momentum behind changing consumer attitudes is likely to strengthen in the future. Health and nutrition is a key area for companies across the food industry, especially the major retailers and their key suppliers.
Related internet links:
-Department of Health UK physical Activity Guidelines
- European Food Information Council
- Healthy start
- NHS Choices