Thursday, July 31, 2014
A healthy diet including enough fruit and vegetables is important to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
But European children are eating far less of these vital foods than they should, according to EU’s ‘Pro Greens’ survey of eleven-year-olds’ diet.
A survey comprising of 8,158 children from ten countries throughout Europe, ranging from the Nordic countries to the Mediterranean was carried out and it was found that daily average consumption is between 220 and 345 grams of fruit and vegetables – far below the World Health Organization’s recommendation of minimum 400 grams.
WHO has estimated that insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables causes around 14% of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, about 11% of ischemic heart disease deaths and about 9% of stroke deaths worldwide.
“Not even half of the children in this study eat fruit every day. The picture is a little bit brighter when it comes to vegetables - 55 percent add vegetables to their diet on a daily basis,” says Agneta Yngve, survey coordinator and professor of culinary arts and meal science at Örebro University.
In the survey Norwegian children topped the list with a daily intake of 345 grams followed by Bulgaria 320 grams and Finnish ranked last with an intake of 220 grams. However, the Norwegian top ranking was more down to munching fruit than crunching veg. They ate the most fruit, whereas Swedes were best at eating vegetables. 60% of Swedish children ate vegetables on a daily basis.
"We believe this is down to Swedish school lunches. A good selection of salads and vegetables are normally offered. At the same time, Swedish children are far from getting enough vegetables. An average of 141 grams per day simply is not sufficient. All children should eat at least 200 grams of vegetables in order to live up to the WHO's recommendations."
In all European countries, including Sweden, children do however eat more fruit than vegetables. Researchers believe that this is due to fruit being more readily available, for instance as a snack, and to children finding fruit more tasty. The most fruit is consumed by children in Norway, followed by Bulgaria and Greece.
"In addition to the differences between countries, we have also found that girls generally eat more fruit and veg than boys," Agneta Yngve continues.
This cross-sectional study is the first part of the Pro Greens intervention study. Information material has been prepared for schools in cooperation with the Swedish supermarket chain Ica with the help of which children all across Europe can learn how to become friends with their bodies. How much fruit and veg should I eat and how do I best go about it?
"The next step for us is to evaluate whether this intervention has had the desired effect," says Agneta Yngve.
“The survey shows that there is a need for promotional activities to improve children’s diet,” the researchers conclude.