to the Research
- Childhood and
adolescence are widely recognised as the times when the foundations
of diet-related conditions such as obesity, raised blood pressure,
raised cholesterol and heart disease can be laid down. The eating
habits of these age groups have been identified as requiring particular
attention, in an effort to promote and protect the health of the young
and to invest in better health for their adult years. Information
on these eating habits can be used to identify particular issues that
need to be addressed, and can provide a baseline against which future
dietary assessments of these age groups can be measured.
- While some information
is available, little is known about the eating patterns of children
of primary school age in NI.
- The dietary behaviour
of children and young people (5-17 years old) was assessed by asking
parents about the frequency of consumption of a range of foods and
about breakfast and lunchtime habits.
- A random probability
sample of 2050 addresses throughout NI was drawn from the database
of the Valuation and Lands Agency. This method yielded a sample of
- Of the 716 children,
53% were male and 47% female. 52% of the sample was in the 5-11 age
range and 48% in the 12-17 range. 46% of the total sample was identified
as belonging to the non-manual socio-economic group and 49% to the
manual socioeconomic group.
- Most children,
and more boys than girls, eat breakfast on weekdays, with 86% eating
on all five weekdays and 6% on none. Girls in the 12-17 year group
have the poorest weekday breakfast habit, and there is a marked decline
in breakfast consumption between younger and older girls. 90% of children
from non-manual households, and 82% of those from manual households
eat breakfast every weekday.
- School lunches
are taken by 49% of the sample, 43% take packed lunches, 3% go home
for lunch and 3% buy lunch outside school. More children from manual
households eat school meals, while more from non-manual take packed
lunch. Buying lunch outside school is more common among those from
non-manual households; going home for lunch is more common among those
from manual households.
- 73% of children
eat fruit 'most days', and 52% every day. 10% of children eat fruit
less than once per week or not at all. Girls eat more fruit than boys,
and younger children eat fruit more often than older children. Children
from non-manual households eat fruit more frequently than those from
- Most children
eat one or two fruit portions per day.
- 61% of the sample
eat vegetables 'most days', and 40% every day. Again, girls eat vegetables
more frequently, with little variation between age groups. 46% of
those from non-manual and 35% from manual households eat vegetables
at least once per day. Of those who eat vegetables, 91% eat one or
- Only 11% of
children were eating the recommended daily number of portions of fruit
and vegetables. One in five boys and one in eight girls do not eat
any on a daily basis. With little variation between ages, 12-17 year
old boys were most likely to eat no fruit and vegetables, while 5-11
year old boys eat the most fruit or vegetables.
- Children from
non-manual households were most likely to eat the daily recommended
five portions of fruit and vegetables, with those from manual households
more than twice as likely to eat less than one portion per day.
- 52% of the children
eat bread more than once per day and 36% once per day. 47% of children
form non-manual households and 56% of children from manual households
eat bread more than once per day.
- Breakfast cereal
is eaten on a daily basis by 71% of the sample, and most days by a
further 11%. More boys than girls eat breakfast cereal at least once
a day, and more girls eat cereal less frequently than once a week
or never. Older children eat breakfast cereal less frequently than
those in the 5 -11 year age group. Girls in the 12-17 year old group
were least likely to eat cereal every day.
- More children
from non-manual households (74%) than manual households (68%) eat
breakfast cereals at least once per day.
- 39% of the sample
eat potatoes every day; 40% on most days. 12-17 year old boys eat
potatoes most frequently; older girls eat potatoes least often. Children
from non-manual households (81%) eat potatoes more frequently than
those from manual households (75%).
- Only 17% of
the sample eats rice or pasta most days/daily, and a third less often
than once a week or never. The most frequent consumers of these were
12-17 year old girls, and the least frequent were 5-11 year old boys.
Children from the non-manual group were more frequent consumers of
rice and pasta.
- A quarter of
all children eat red meat most days. Boys eat it more frequently than
girls; older boys eat it more frequently than younger boys; and younger
girls eat it more frequently than older girls.
- Just over a
quarter eat white meat most days; the majority (66%) once or twice
per week. Younger children eat it less frequently than older children;
and children from non-manual households more frequently than those
from manual households.
- Around 41% of
children have fried, battered or breadcrumbed fish once or twice a
week; 68% of children eat it less than once a week or never.
- Around 18% of
children eat meat products on most days or daily, with girls less
likely to eat these regularly. Boys in the 12-17 year group and children
from manual households are the most frequent consumers of these products.
- Almost half
of the sample drinks semi-skimmed milk. Older girls are five times
more likely not to use any milk. More children from manual than non-manual
households use whole milk, while more children from non-manual households
- Overall, 18%
of children eat chips most days or often, and 66% once or twice per
week. Older children, and those from manual households, eat chips
more frequently than their opposite groups.
- 96% of children
eat other fried foods once or twice per week or less. Older boys eat
other fired foods more frequently than younger boys.
- 73% of children
eat biscuits every day; 33% eat them more than once per day. A slightly
higher proportion of children from manual households eat biscuits
more than once per day.
- 47% of all children
have confectionary at least once a day. Boys in the 12-17 year age
group, and those in manual households, are the most frequent consumers
- 14% of children
eat cakes and buns every day, the most frequent consumers being older
boys and those from non-manual households.
- 38% of children
drink fizzy drinks or squashes containing sugar every day and 12%
more than once per day. Boys drink them more often than girls; older
children more often than younger children, and those from manual households
more than non-manual households.
- Fewer children
drink sugar-free drinks. Girls tend to drink sugar free drinks more
than boys; and younger children more than older children.
- 52% of children
eat savoury snacks, with the most marked finding being that 12% of
children from manual households compared to 5% from non-manual households
eat these more than once per day.
- Various concerns
are raised about the dietary habits of children and young people.
The low fruit and vegetable consumption, high snack consumption and
high fizzy drink and squash consumption, across all ages, sex and
socioeconomic groups, are particularly worrying.
- The results
show clear differences between various age, gender and socioeconomic
groups, with the implications of these findings discussed in relation
to negative outcomes of such dietary behaviour. In particular, children
from manual households are noted as appearing to have a much poorer
diet, which has been the case in other such research. The groups identified
as most at risk require particular attention to help them achieve
a diet to protect rather than jeopardise their health.