Most children are still failing to eat five pieces of fruit and veg a day, though their levels of physical activity do meet current Government recommendations, according to the SPEEDY study (Sport, Physical activity and Eating behaviour: Environmental Determinants in Young people).
The study was performed by a team of researchers from The Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit and The University of East Anglia, coordinated by Esther van Sluijs. During the Summer term 2007, they studied the diet, physical activity and body shape of 2064 Year 5 pupils (aged 9-10 years) in 92 schools across the county of Norfolk. They also investigated their socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and school and home neighborhood environments.
According to van Sluijs, "To date, the extent of the problem of physical inactivity and unhealthy dietary habits in children has been largely unknown. Good data about physical activity, assessed using valid and reliable measures in large samples, are scarce - especially in children".
The aim of the SPEEDY study was to generate valid data about current diet and exercise patterns, and the factors that are most strongly associated with them. The authors sought to better understand why some children have a healthier lifestyle than others so that they can promote changes in important health behaviors. They write, "Our results showed that more than two-thirds of children adhere to the physical activity guideline of accumulating at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day, but that daily consumption of fruit or of vegetables was only reported by 56.8% and 49.9% of the children, respectively."
Boys were more likely to be physically active and of normal weight than girls. In contrast, boys' reported daily consumption of 'healthy' foods was lower, and their consumption of snacks and unhealthy food items such as soft drinks was higher than that of girls. In addition, children from a higher socioeconomic background were more likely to eat fruit and vegetables daily. The authors say, "The fact that almost 70% of children meet national physical activity guidelines indicates that a prevention of decline, rather than increasing physical activity levels, might be an appropriate intervention target, although there is some uncertainty over whether these recommended levels are really sufficient. Promotion of daily fruit and vegetable intake in this age group is also warranted, possibly focusing on children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds."
- Esther MF van Sluijs, Paula Skidmore, Kim Mwanza, Andrew P Jones, Alison M Callaghan, Ulf Ekelund, Flo Harrison, Ian Harvey, Jenna Panter, Nicholas J Wareham, Aedin Cassidy and Simon J Griffin. Physical activity and dietary behaviour in a population-based sample of British 10-year old children: the SPEEDY study. BMC Public Health, (in press)
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