The research, conducted as part of the BNF’s annual Healthy Eating Week, surveyed over 5,000 school children aged 5 – 16 years old, and found that more than one in ten (13%) 8 – 11 year olds answered that pasta comes from an animal, and almost one fifth (18%) of 5 – 7 year olds say that fish fingers are made of chicken. The survey also shows that one in ten 11 – 14 year olds do not know that carrots and potatoes grow underground.
The Healthy Eating Week survey, one of the largest of its kind in the UK, revealed that 6% of 14 – 16 year olds say that dairy cows produce eggs and one sixth (14%) of 5 – 7 year olds say that bacon is the produce of cows, sheep or chickens.
The survey also questioned Eatwell Guide food group knowledge of all age groups, with almost a quarter (23%) of 5 – 7 year olds say that bananas, roast chicken, broccoli and wholegrain bread belong in the dairy and alternatives food group. One sixth (16%) of the same age group reported that bread, yoghurt, chocolate and salmon belong in the fruit and vegetables food group.
Children in the survey were asked to indicate where they source their information on healthy eating from. Over half (54%) of 11 – 14 year olds use the internet as a reliable source of information on healthy eating, and this increases to almost two thirds (64%) for the 14 – 16 age group. Schools are reported as the second biggest source of information for 14 – 16 year olds (51%), while almost two thirds (59%) of 11 – 14 year olds rely on schools to provide them with the correct information.
Roy Ballam, Managing Director and Head of Education at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “Assuming that information about food and health gathered from these sources has an impact on children’s nutrition knowledge, and ultimately their lifestyles and health, it is important that we ensure all information is evidence based. We can’t control what children access on the internet and elsewhere but we can ensure that teachers are equipped with accurate information. However, research we conducted last year amongst primary school teachers showed that seven in ten of participating teachers had not undertaken any professional development in ‘food’ during the past two years.
“With no formal professional support provided to teachers centrally, schools and individual teachers take on the responsibility for interpreting and delivering the curriculum in their own way. This approach means that there is a risk of conflicting or misleading messaging being disseminated through schools across the UK. This, combined with the latest results of the survey showing that the Internet is one of the most popular sources of information for teenagers, means that it has never been more important for schools and teachers to be armed with the correct information so that children and young adults are able to decipher between fact and fake news.”
Despite knowing that they should aim to eat at least five-a-day, children still do not know what should be included in their five. The survey shows that 14 – 16 year olds say that strawberry jam and boiled potatoes contribute to a person’s five-a-day (25% and 50% respectively) while on the positive side, eight in ten (82%) 11 – 14 year olds know that dried fruit or vegetables count towards five-a-day.
49% of primary school children reported having their five-a-day, and 27% of 14 – 16 year olds said they had at least five portions of fruit and vegetables. However, over half (51%) of primary school children reported eating four or less portions of fruit and vegetables the day before, while 67% of secondary school children reported the same; more than one in ten (12%) 14 – 16 year old answered that they had none.
“Schools and families can and should successfully work together to, in turn, educate children and then motivate them in their endeavours to make healthier choices. Furthermore, the links between physical activity, health and diet should be frequently highlighted by the government’s programmes. At the BNF, we would like to see food and nutrition education for teachers included in the government’s Obesity Plan to ensure that all teachers receive relevant training and have an understanding of the important role they play in supporting the health and wellbeing of children in their care,” said Ballam.