BNF survey exposes UK students’ ideas on food and healthy eating

New research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) shows that one in ten 14-16 year olds in the UK believe that tomatoes grow underground, and a quarter of primary school children think that cheese comes from plants.

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 think that pasta comes from an animal; 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 survey also questioned the food group knowledge of all age groups, with almost a quarter (23%) of 5-7 year olds stating 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, yogurt, 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 of 11-14 year olds use the internet as a reliable source of information on healthy eating. Schools are reported as the second biggest source of information for teenagers.

Roy Ballam, managing director and head of education at the British Nutrition Foundation, says, “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.”

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.

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, more than one in ten 14-16 year olds 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,” concludes Ballam.

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