New research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveals that 60 percent of 11 to 16-year olds say they buy food such as chips or fried chicken from takeaways at lunchtime or after school at least once a week, along with almost a third (31 percent) saying they have an energy drink at least once a week.
The responses from the survey also show that 39 percent of secondary and 48 percent of primary school students report eating three or more snacks a day. The research, conducted as part of BNF Healthy Eating Week, surveyed almost 5,000 primary and secondary school students aged 7 – 16 years. When asked about the three snacks they eat most, encouragingly, fruit was the most popular snack with over half of both primary and secondary school students surveyed saying it was one of the snacks they ate most. However, this was closely followed by less healthy options, with almost half of children aged 7 – 11 years saying they snack on crisps (46 percent) and chocolate (46 percent). While both primary and secondary school students report getting most of their snacks at home about one fifth of primary and a third of secondary students also say they get snacks from a shop.
Although almost half (46 percent) of secondary school students say that being good at sport motivates them to eat healthily, over a third (35 percent) say that one of the main reasons stopping them from being active is that they are too tired after school.
The survey reveals that children aged 11 – 16 years are motivated by different factors to eat healthily, with nearly a third saying this is so that they will have more energy (31 percent) and sleep better (30 percent) and almost half wanting to feel healthy. However, there are also barriers to eating well with 36 percent reporting that they don’t like healthy foods, 20 percent saying that healthy foods are boring and 12 percent not sure what the healthiest foods are. Most respondents (67 percent) in this age group say they would talk to their parents if they were worried about their health or weight. If they didn’t want to talk to someone face-to-face, 41 percent would go to the NHS website or to other health websites (31 percent), while 16 percent would look to social media.
Roy Ballam, BNF’s Managing Director and Head of Education, said: “While it’s encouraging that children are motivated to eat well, many of the children we surveyed also said they didn’t like the taste of healthy foods or thought they were boring. This is where education about nutrition, cooking and food provenance can play a key role in helping children understand and get familiar with the foods that make up a healthy diet. With snacks, sugary drinks and takeaways readily available to many children on their way to and from school we need to do all that we can to educate young people about eating well.
“While our survey showed that parents are the first port of call when children are concerned about health it’s also vital that we support teachers to deliver evidence-based and engaging information to children about food and nutrition. Many food teachers may actually get little training in nutrition and addressing this is key to ensuring the quality of food education in schools.”
The BNF survey also assessed children’s knowledge of food provenance and reveals that almost a fifth (19 percent) of primary and secondary school children do not know that apples are grown in the UK, but over one in ten (13 percent) primary-aged pupils think that bananas are grown in the UK.
Ballam continued: “Thinking about where our food comes from and how it is produced is an important part of developing an understanding of food. Last year, BNF Healthy Eating Week’s survey revealed that one in ten 14 – 16-year-olds in the UK thought that tomatoes grow underground, and a quarter of primary school children said that cheese comes from plants. This year, our survey shows that one in ten primary school children think that eggs are an ingredient in cheese.
“To improve the nation’s knowledge of food provenance and healthy eating, accurate information needs to be readily available for teachers, parents and children themselves. BNF Healthy Eating Week is all about providing a focus on food and health for this week with lots of free, evidence-based resources available, but we need to make sure this continues in the longer term which is why, this year, we’re encouraging those involved to ‘Make a Change’ – to set a goal and make a positive lifestyle change that lasts.”