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Health, Nutrition, Science

New Findings: How the ‘Five-A-Day’ Scheme has changed what we eat (or not)…

Do you think you eat enough fruit and veg? If you’re like most of us – then you probably don’t.

FruitsAlmost a decade has passed since governments around the world starting telling us to eat ‘five-a-day’. Upping your intake of vegetables has been shown to reduce your chance of heart attack, stroke and cancer. But have these high profile initiatives made even the slightest bit of difference to our eating habits?

Analysts from the University of Bolgna have been trawling through data from the UK since the British ‘Five-A-Day‘ programme started in 2003. They have just published their findings and they make some interesting revelations…


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Five-A-Day

Lunch

lunch?

There’s much to be said for the humble vegetable. In 2002, the World Health Organisation calculated that if everyone ate at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day (that’s about five portions), nearly 13 million fewer people in the world would die every year. It’s no wonder that  ‘Five-A-Day‘ has become the motto for healthy living.

A team of Italian researchers decided to dissect data  collected from thousands of UK household surveys. They wanted to know if the ‘Five-A-Day’ promotion had made any impact on people’s lifestyle – or whether people would have made those changes anyway. Using some sophisticated statistical analysis they took into account changing food prices and how shopping trends were before the initiative started.

They’re results are interesting and show that British people seem a somewhat reluctant to change what they eat:

  • The typical Brit now eats slightly more fruit and veg (0.3 portions) than before – that’s about a third of an apple more!
  • Less than half of the UK population eat their 5 or more portions a day
  • And a quarter of UK households still eat less than 2 portions a day!
  • The average British person eats 4 portions of fruit and veg every day
  • The less money you have, the less fruit and vegetables you are likely to eat

Has ‘Five-A-Day’ Been a Waste of Time?

On the face of it, the results are pretty disappointing; but it’s not just British people who are difficult to persuade. Every public health scheme around the world faces the same challenge – getting people to change their habits is extremely difficult! (some say it’s virtually impossible) There seems to be a disconnect between what we know is good for us and what we actually do.

Given that the scheme has been practically run on a shoestring (The UK Government spends less £1 million/$1.6 million per year) – it’s surprising that the ‘Five-A-Day’ project has had any effect at all!

So while there’s still some way to go – health experts knew that we humans are stubborn beasts: The official target is that most British people will be eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables by 2015.

Suggestions for improvement…

My main complaint with the ‘Five-A-Day’ scheme in the UK, is that it can all be a bit patronising: Packets of Fruit juices, Broccoli, Turnips and Celery all proudly display labels “One of Your Five-A-Day!”(Thanks, I had forgotten broccoli was a vegetable!)

And many companies have been stretching the ‘Five-A-Day’ principle to its limit in a cynical attempt to cash-in: Does artificially sweetened yoghurt with fruit pieces really count toward my ‘Five-A-Day’?

My silly suggestion: Perhaps food manufacturers should try appealing to our sense of vanity: “Eat more Carrots – And get a Healthy Looking Tan!”

Did you know that eating fruit and vegetables gives you look better than having a suntan?! Click to read more!


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Read More:

Find out what counts and what doesn’t in your ‘Five-A-Day’ (NHS)

References:

Capacci, S., & Mazzocchi, M. (2011). Five-a-day, a price to pay: An evaluation of the UK program impact accounting for market forces Journal of Health Economics, 30 (1), 87-98 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2010.10.006

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

4 thoughts on “New Findings: How the ‘Five-A-Day’ Scheme has changed what we eat (or not)…

  1. I know around here there’s a serious problem with the fact that fatty, sugary, processed stuff tends to be considerably cheaper, once you factor in spoilage issues, than produce. A lot of this is due to the United States’ insane habit of subsidizing corn and certain other crops; I don’t know if Britain has anything comparable, but the “the poorer you are, the less likely you are to eat vegetables” part really stands out to me…

    Posted by Azkyroth | March 19, 2011, 7:57 pm
    • Hi there Azkyroth – thanks for your thoughts,
      Yes what you say is directly comparable to here in the UK, although I don’t know of corn subsidies in Europe (they may exist?) but refined, processed food is invariably cheaper than buying raw ingredients. It’s pretty understandable then that poorer families don’t spend their money on carrots and cauliflower!
      From time to time I hear it discussed whether the Goverrnment should subsidise healthy food – perhaps this would be better than posters and TV commercials?

      Posted by Stuart Farrimond | March 19, 2011, 10:49 pm
  2. hello, I’ve been a vegetarian and pescatarian but then after 6 months of being a veggie – i collapsed because i didnt have enough iron i my body and i got very weak. I was loosing alot of blood but i dont like eating meat and i really want to be a veggie again but i cant becuase that will happen, so im on a rota but i just want to be a veggi straight. I cant eat nuts so,what foods can i have to stop this from happening?

    Posted by imogen | December 8, 2011, 9:21 pm

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