In response to a recent British Medical Association (BMA) survey, a new piece of research suggests that there is significant room for improvement with regard to childhood nutrition in the UK.
The publication of the Scottish Health Survey for 2014 has underlined just how few children in the nation are consuming the recommended quantities of fruit and vegetables; a handy reminder after the BMA research of just a few weeks ago.
This extensive research of health trends in Scotland found that less than one-in-seven children in Scotland currently consume the recommended five daily portions of fruit and / or vegetables.
The survey regarding free fruit and vegetables was conducted on behalf of the BMA by Ipsos MORI, between 12th and 31st August 2015, with 2,000 parents interviewed online.
And despite the highly publicised five-a-day fruit and vegetable campaign, the study indicates that eating habits have not improved at all.
Since 2003, there has been no increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables being consumed by children in Scotland, with an average of 2.8 portions being maintained during this period. This is obviously little more than half of the recommended quantity.
The news comes in the context of the BMA publishing an online opinion poll of 2,000 parents across the United Kingdom.
This survey indicated that more than three-quarters would support the introduction of a free portion of fruit or vegetables for every primary age schoolchild.
Commenting on the disappointing figures, Dr Andrew Thomson, who sits on the BMA board of science, stated that the trends indicated by the Scottish health survey are rather worrying.
“This latest survey shows that Scotland is still falling some way short when it comes to making sure children are eating enough fruit and vegetables. Despite the growing cost of obesity related conditions to the NHS, there has been no real improvement to the average amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by children in Scotland for over a decade,” Thomson asserted.
Following up from the earlier research from the BMA, Thomson also suggested one possible way of addressing the chasm in fruit and vegetable consumption.
“Introducing an entitlement for all primary school pupils to receive a free portion of fruit or vegetables on every school day would be a real step forward and would help to ensure children in Scotland live healthier lives,” Thomson stated.
Although there are many factors leading to the obesity epidemic in the western world, certainly poor diet is generally considered to be the major contributor.
Despite various efforts to promote healthy eating among young people, there are numerous indicators which suggest that childhood obesity is a ticking timebomb in the UK.
Most recently, University College London researchers looked at data from more than 56,000 people born in Britain between 1946 and 2001, and found that the ages at which children are becoming obese continue to fall.
A new poll instigated by the British Medical Association indicates that the majority of people would back the introduction of a free portion of fruit and / or vegetables for older primary school pupils.
The Ipsos MORI survey of 2,000 parents across the UK found that 79 per cent of people would strongly support or tend to support the measure, while just 5 per cent would tend to oppose or are strongly opposed to it.
Although the concept of providing free fruit and vegetables may seem to be a fanciful notion there are in fact is already precedents within the United Kingdom.
Eleven local authorities in Scotland currently provide some form of free fruit and vegetables above what is routinely provided in terms of school dinners.
However, although this may appear to be a positive development, in reality it represents something of a retraction from previous positions.
As recently as 2013/14, sixteen local authorities in Scotland had schemes in place, thus there has been a significant reduction over the last two years alone.
But the fact that schemes are already operating successfully in Scotland does suggest that it would be possible for free fruit and vegetables to be offered on a wide scale basis within the United Kingdom.
The BMA-backed survey comes in the context of the recent Food for Thought report, published in July.
This report suggested that all primary age pupils should be provided with a free portion of fruit and / or vegetables on every school day.
There are also suggestions related to the regulations on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and a tax on sugary drinks was also advocated, suggesting that this could help subsidise a fund for free fruit and vegetables.
The notion of taxing sugary drink, though, has not been supported by all people, regardless of the negative health impact of soda and other guilty parties in general.
It is suggested that taxing these products is not actually addressing the consumption of sugary drinks, and will instead ensure that in many cases poorer members of society simply pay more for products.
However, making this clear link between the subsidisation of fruit and vegetables, effectively providing a free service to children, as a payoff for taxing sugary drinks, could make the policy seen more palatable to its detractors.
Commenting on the results from the survey, Dr Andrew Thomson, who sits on the BMA’s Board of Science strongly advocated the policy suggested by the British Medical Association.
“We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that children are eating healthily and this poll shows clear public backing for ensuring that all primary school children get access to a free portion of fruit or vegetables. Providing primary school pupils with free fruit or vegetables means that they are less likely to eat unhealthy snacks between meals and helps to build positive habits that can last throughout their lives,” Thomson asserted.
Thomson also believes that further pressure and activism is required in order to motivate the government to respond to public opinion.
“It is concerning that several local authorities have actually scrapped the provision of free fruit and vegetables in schools in recent years. Action is needed to address this variation and ensure that primary school pupils in all parts of the country benefit equally from free fruit and vegetables,” Thomson opined.
Obesity in children has been growing to such an extent in recent years that it is frequently described as an epidemic.
While one extra portion of fruit and vegetables a day would hardly reverse this situation, it is hoped by the BMA that it could make a contribution to children making healthier food choices.