General Health Friday March 4, 2016

Has Our Diet Actually Changed For The Better?

There are constant stories about rising obesity rates in the news, so you might assume that our eating habits have got significantly worse over the last few decades. As usual, however, it's not that simple. According to the the National Food Survey, which monitors our shopping habits, in some ways we are eating more healthily than ever before.

Here are a few interesting trends to chew over, both healthy and not-so-much.


In the 1990s Brits started drinking more skimmed and semi-skimmed milk than whole-fat. In fact we now drink four times as much. This is often seen as a healthier option, although some recent research is starting to swing back towards whole milk as the most beneficial choice.


Brown bread purchases are up 85% on 1974, whilst white bread sales have plummeted by 75%.


Purchases of fresh fruit are up by 50%.

Meat and fish

One of the biggest changes on the meat front is liver - we used to eat lots. In 1974 a household would typically buy 36 grams a week. In 2014 we bought just 3 grams a week. A whopping 92% drop. Why? It's possibly due to the war generation 'waste not want not' mentality being left behind. Chicken and minced beef rose to take its place. Fish is a healthy dish but we've swapped from white fish to salmon and other seafoods like prawns. Omega-3 marketing tactics may go some way to explaining the change along with falling prices.

Convenience meals

They went up fivefold. Yikes!

What about drinks?

Soft 'not low calorie' drink sales have dropped by a third and surprisingly tea drinkers are on the decline too. (What?!) Experts think it's due to a rise in 'coffee culture'. We still buy an average of 25 grams of tea a week though.

Why the changes?

It's believed the changes are due to public health advice campaigns, such as the switch to skimmed milk after heart and cholesterol health were promoted in the 90s. It's not just health advice that changes eating patterns though. TV programs can influence us too. The survey monitored a rise in pizza popularity during the Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero) Turtles phase - remember them?

Better quality and more ethics?

Despite having greater access to information about food than ever before, our take-up of buying locally and ethically remains slow.

The Greendex survey by the National Geographic Society found that the British (and Japanese) eat far more imported food than home-grown, which is not surprising given our island status. We, along with Germany, Australia, America and Canada, are not particularly concerned with changed our eating habits to reduce the environmental impact either.

There has been a shift towards locally-grown home produce, but the super-leaguers are Russians - 77% eat local food each week.

The cost of food

Food prices have gone down since the 70s. It's thought 11% of our wages go on food compared to 24% back then. Experts believe it's due to increased competition, modern farming methods and better logistics.

So has our diet changed for the better? We buy more fruit, brown bread and skimmed milk, but salty and sugary convenience meal intake has increased. Cheap supermarket food wars out-pricing the butcher and greengrocers may also mean food quality is lost.

It's difficult to say, but perhaps our good intentions with fruit, brown bread and skimmed milk are being undermined by poor quality convenience meals? It seems the nation's waistline answers that question.


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