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UK children have alarming misconceptions about food origins

3 min read

The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) was established in 1967, its goal is to deliver authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition in the context of our health and lifestyle. The main goal of the foundation is to make nutrition science accessible to everyone. 

In 2013 and 2014 the BNF have conducted a 'National Pupil Survey' to find out what children and young people know about healthy eating, cooking and where food comes from. Over 13,000 children and young people aged between 5 to 16 years, in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales took part in 2014. The were asked questions on 3 topics:

  1. Healthy eating
  2. Cooking
  3. Where food comes from

Alarming misconceptions about nutrition and the origins of food were exposed

In 2013 the survey revealed astonishing results such as children thinking fish fingers come from chicken. For many of us it would be easy to assume that children would know that fish live in rivers and seas and chickens live on land, however 17% of children would appear to think that chickens are fish and live in water.

Bread comes from animals

It would be hoped that as children grow older their knowledge of food and its origins would improve. Whilst the results do illustrate this is the case, it is still staggering to learn that over 25% of 5-8 years-olds and 14% of 8-11 year-olds think that bread comes from animals. 4% of children aged 11-14 said "Healthy eating is not important to me" and worryingly 5% of 14-16 year-olds said the same.

Misunderstandings are worrying considering rising levels of obesity

With obesity levels rising particularly in children, educating children early to make them aware of what they are eating and the harm it can do to their bodies is paramount. If a child reaches adulthood obese then as well as the harm it will have already done to their developing body, a lifetime of bad habits and diet makes it harder to change lifestyle and try to reverse many years of habitual bad eating.

Roy Ballam, program manager stated "for the second year running.... 52% believed that carbohydrate provided more energy that either fat or protein when, in fact, fat is more calorific."

Evidence of knowledge is present but it is not being actioned 

While children did have knowledge about the importance of nutrition and hydration, it simply is not being put into practice enough.

The survey found that children do understand the importance and value of eating fish with almost all of them knowing they should each fish every week, however 20% reported not eating any fish at all.

Children have opinions about what they eat and may profess to 'not liking' something, however it is adults/parent that ultimately decide what children eat and are primarily responsible for educating children on food and nutrition.

Previous failings may be to blame but education is improving

The national food survey is a new concept devised to help determine factors causing a rise in obesity in children. It is clear that recent efforts are helping to improve children's knowledge and understanding, however with adults in pole position to drum this home to children it could be failings in previous years that have left adults with a poor knowledge and understanding of food which has ultimately compounded the problem.

Read the full results of the British Nutrition Foundation National Pupil Survey 2014 here.

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.