New research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveals that 43 percent of adults admit that they find it difficult to find reliable information on healthy diets, with changing information, messages and advice from media and experts being the biggest causes for confusion (76 percent and 61 percent respectively). UK adults also show a desire for health and weight management but find that work stress and lack of time are barriers to this.
“With two-thirds of adults overweight or obese, the UK is in the middle of an obesity crisis – and a lack of consumer knowledge and reliable information on healthy eating is a huge cause for concern. In the digital age, with growing concerns about the trustworthiness of information in the media, many are confused about which online sources are reliable – unsurprising when there is so much conflicting advice available. The public need to receive more consistent messaging about diet and nutrition if we are to stand a fighting chance of changing these worrying health statistics,” says Roy Ballam, BNF’s Managing Director and Head of Education
The survey, conducted as part of BNF Healthy Eating Week, questioned almost 500 adults across the UK and reports that almost half (48 percent) of adults surveyed say that busy lives and stress play a significant role in stopping them from eating healthily. Also, 40 percent of adults said that being too tired after work is the main reason for not being active.
The survey also showed many different factors that affect people’s food choices when at work or university. A third of adults said that high workloads make it difficult to eat well and that they find it hard to take a proper lunch break, while a quarter said they do not have enough time to prepare healthy foods when at work. Furthermore, 24 percent of respondents said there are limited healthy food and drink options available at work or close by and 28 percent said there were too many unhealthy snacks available in their work setting.
Bridget Benelam, Nutrition Communications Manager at BNF, emphasizes to that the role of the workplace and the food industry should play a strong role in adult health & nutrition: “Broadly, a lot of workplaces will have catered food provided and those companies who provide the food can make a real impact. Depending on where you work you may have other options but you also may not, meaning you have to eat the catered food. Catering companies can make a real difference by providing healthy options and supplying the fat, salt and sugar content of the food and promoting healthier options and making them attractive.”
“There are certain things in the workplace, particularly, that can be done. Many do have wellbeing initiatives that allow people to take longer lunch breaks to do some exercise and go to the gym, or flexible working to change the structure allowing for activities before or after work,” says Benelam.
“The workplace culture should allow people to take time to eat a healthy and nutritious lunch and not be seen as avoiding work,” she adds.
“We know that a key to reducing obesity is changing behavior – some of this will come from government and local environments making it easier for people to change. The results from this survey show that the main motivation for being healthy is weight control, however, there seem to be a number of barriers within workplaces and universities that make this difficult. Encouraging work settings to engage more with health may be an effective way of helping people put their good intentions into action and we’ve seen an excellent response to BNF Healthy Eating Week for workplaces and universities this year, with over 1,400 organizations participating,” says Ballam.
The survey also found that social media platforms (37 percent) are the most common reported source for nutritional information for adults. Under a third (30 percent) of respondents said that they use the NHS website, a quarter visit other health websites and 14 percent said that they gather nutritional information from a doctor, hospital or health clinic.
Two thirds (68 percent) of survey respondents reported that they are motivated to eat healthily to control their weight and, when shopping for food, 61 percent of adults said they always or often check nutrition labels on food. Two thirds or more of people surveyed said that the calories (64 percent), sugar (68 percent) and fat (60 percent) are the things that they look for on a nutrition label.
“It is really encouraging to see that people are motivated to eat well and to check the nutritional content of the foods they buy, however, there are clearly many who are struggling to put this into action because they are too busy, stressed or tired. We need to find evidence-based, practical ways to make it easier to be healthy that fit in with people’s daily lives,” Ballam adds.
How do UK kids compare?
BNF also ran a similar survey among British children aged from seven to eleven. The statistics drew attention to the need for stronger nutritional education among children, as they seem to increasingly seek information from sources such as social media and the internet, as opposed to from school or parents.
The research on children is particularly important because of the potential long-term nutritional effects of unhealthy habits, “Having these foods and drinks only once is unlikely to have a lasting impact on health. However, what is more likely is that having such foods and drinks is part of an unhealthy eating pattern that, if continued over the long-term, affects our eating habits and can really impact on health. This is especially the case for young people whose bodies are still growing and developing,” Frances Meek, Senior Education Officer at BNF tells.
Some key findings included that 60 percent of 11 to 16 year-olds buy foods such as fries or fried chicken at least once a week, while almost a third cited that they drink at least one energy drink a week. You can read the full coverage here.
Clearly, information and education are important for both adults and children alike, but awareness of nutrition and health does not automatically translate into action. Benelam adds: “Awareness is high but it is not enough to make a change to peoples health, so we need many other factors for this to take place.”