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The importance of a healthy diet

A healthy, balanced diet is the first step to improving the well-being of children now and in later life. It is well known that childhood is a crucial time for forming food preferences and eating habits and the impact of poor nutrition on children's health and development is cause for serious concern.

Experts recommend that a well-balanced diet should include at least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day. This is to provide vitamins, minerals and many other elements essential for growth and development and to protect against heart disease, cancer and other diet-related diseases that may develop in later life.

Results from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that British children are eating less than half the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each day. Children from lower socioeconomic households are more likely to have lower consumption of fruits and vegetables. The survey also showed that:

  • 92% of children are eating more than the recommended amount of saturated fat
  • 83% are eating too much non-milk extrinsic sugars
  • More than half of children are consuming too much salt
  • Iron and riboflavin intake among many teenagers is below the recommended levels
  • One in four teenage girls is not getting enough calcium
  • A high proportion of teenagers are not getting adequate intakes of other minerals including magnesium, potassium and zinc

Many young people depend on chips, biscuits, snack foods and confectionary for a significant proportion of their total intake of energy at the expense of more nutritious options.

Healthy Schools & Fair Trade: Sustain was contracted by Young Co-operatives to assess the implications of the new school food standards for fair-trade food and drink products sold in schools. This work was supported by a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

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