For Better and for Worse: How Our Dietary Habits Have Changed
The health of UK adults is constantly shifting – with both positive and negative effects. For example, in 2016/17 there were 617,000 admissions to NHS hospitals in which obesity was a factor, a rise of 18% on 2015/16. This is an important fact to note, as obesity is associated with a range of serious health concerns including several forms of cancer.
However, in other ways our health is becoming more positive overall. For example, the UK has seen a huge reduction in deaths from infectious disease. In 1901, around a third of deaths were due to infectious disease, but now this is around 8%.
Now, newly released results from a nine-year analysis of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey has provided a clear holistic picture of our nation’s health, for better and worse. Let’s take a look.
THE GOOD: We’ve seen a large drop in fizzy drink consumption
The findings report that a significant number of children are turning their backs on fizzy drinks, with numbers falling by a third in the last nine years. Around half of children do not drink them, and those that that do are consuming less than children did a decade ago in 2008-2009.
This has helped to contribute to a larger overall reduction in sugar consumption across the country.
Researchers asked people to keep a diary over four days, and those who did not drink any fizzy drinks in that time were categorised as ‘non-consumers’. These accounted for over half of all respondents.
What’s more, these tests were carried out before the tax on sugary drinks was introduced in 2018.
THE BAD: More needs to be done to help increase fruit and vegetable intake
It wasn’t all good news. The report, from the Food Standards Agency and Public Health England, also found that fruit and vegetable consumption has not improved, and remains under the recommended five-a-day. Fibre intake has also fallen, as had vitamin and mineral consumption overall.
The government campaign for five-a-day was launched in 2003, but seems to have had little effect. The campaign was based on advice from the World Health Organisation that eating a minimum of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day can lower the risk of serious health concerns like stroke, heart disease and various forms of cancer.
The importance of lifestyle changes
What these results show is that improving your health begins by making the right lifestyle changes, be that increasing your fruit and veg intake or cutting down on high-sugar products.
Other examples of positive lifestyle changes would be engaging in regular exercise, which can help with weight management, mental health and cardiovascular health, or quitting smoking. Smoking is the single biggest avoidable risk factor for cancer, and it also plays a role in a whole host of other health concerns such as respiratory disease, diabetes and reproductive issues.
Of course, medical intervention is often required for a wide range of physical and mental health concerns, be it in the form of surgery, counsel or medication. However, changing your lifestyle in positive ways is the ideal starting point for improving your health in the long run.
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