FSA’s Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey: Some Snippets

The Eating within recommended dietary guidelines and on a budget project is having some difficulties. Not, oddly, on the actual shopping, cooking or budgeting fronts but the dietary analysis that I want to perform. On the upside, I have located some useful figures relating to low income diet, nutrient intake and food spend budgets.

I have so far failed to identify an online, widely available, free to use, diet analysis tool that uses UK RDA/RDI guidelines and uses UK foods as part of the recipe analysis (proprietary diet analysis products are available from £75 up). Some of the RDAs or RDIs for the US and UK differ and this can be a source of error in the analysis when it comes to assessing meeting dietary guidelines. Added to this some US ingredients such as cereals and white flours are legally mandated to be fortified with particular vitamins. This means that not only is the nutritional profile for the same breakfast cereal very different but it is not straightforward to use a US database to analyse a recipe that is made from scratch because of the difference in the nutritional profile of particular staples. If you know of an online, UK dietary analysis resource such as the one that I need, please let us know.

I’ve been more successful in identifying some useful statistics for the project. There was some discussion about budgets and the typical food spend of individuals and families. For these purposes, the Food Standards Agency’s Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey is an eye-opening read.

Pocket Guide to Basis and Findings

Basis: The aim of LIDNS was to identify approximately the bottom 15% of the population in terms of material deprivation.

Researchers wanted to acquire data on food and nutrient intakes and assess the extent to which the diets of the low income population vary from expert recommendations. Amongst other data, they obtained food recall analysis, various measurements and blood tests.

Results: For many foods, the types and quantities eaten by people on low income appeared similar to those of the general population.

Generally, those on low income were less likely to eat wholemeal bread and vegetables. They tended to drink more soft drinks (not diet drinks) and eat more processed meats, whole milk and sugar.

The numbers of underweight people were low (2%). However, large percentages (62% of men and 63% of women) were overweight or obese, in about the same proportion as in the population at large.

The average number of fruit and vegetable portions eaten daily was: men 2.4, women 2.5, boys 1.6, girls 2.0. Like the general population, this is well below the Government’s recommendation to eat at least five portions a day.

Average daily intakes of all vitamins from food sources, with the exception of vitamins A and D, were above or close to the required recommended intake for men and women in all age groups.

Intakes of many minerals also met recommendations. However, average intakes of total iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc fell below requirements for a large proportion of respondents (mostly women for iron).

There was evidence of inadequate levels of iron, folate and vitamin D.

The above pattern of intakes is broadly similar to the wider population.

About 80% of this low income group did their main shopping at a large supermarket.

Budget: 30% of men and 29% of women reported that price/value/money available for food was the most important influence on their choice of food. Thirty-five percent of men and 44% of women wanted to change their diet. 60% of parents/carers wanted to change their children’s diet.

Mean weekly spending on food and drink (including eating out, but excluding alcoholic drinks) was just under £30 for one-adult households, just over £50 for households containing two or more adults, £55–£65 for households with one adult and one or more children, and £80–£90 for households with two or more adults and one or more children.

The median was comparable to the findings of DEFRA’s Expenditure and Food Survey (2004/05) which reported spending of £28 per person per week.

As an interim measure, I may start posting some of the budgets and meals that I have tried and for which I have some nutrient information. However, the analysis is incomplete which is disappointing. It is precisely this sort of activity that the FSA and Eatwell etc. should be doing and doing in public, because otherwise, it is hardly surprising that so many of the british public seem to have a lack of faith in their ability to eat a balanced diet or have been persuaded by various media nutritionists that it is impractical. This last is a slightly over-blown assertion that I’m basing on the summary of the latest Mintel Report on Vitamins and Supplements.

Just over four in ten adults would not consider using vitamins and supplements in the future. While one in five adults perceive them to be unnecessary and one in seven claim not to notice any difference when using them.

“The vitamins & supplements market will struggle to achieve overall growth over the next few years as the number of users continues to diminish. Educating people about the benefits of supplements over normal food will be instrumental in capturing the growth potential here. Given the current economic situation, paralleling the cost of vitamins and supplements with the cost of buying enough food to ensure that daily allowance guidelines are met, could help to generate sales for the sector, particularly amongst those people who are finding their budgets squeezed” concludes [a health analyst]. [Emphasis added.]

But, just to be clear about this, Mintel is highlighting that there is money to be made by persuading people that it is cheaper to take a pill than to attempt to obtain their nutrition from their daily diet. And it is seemingly OK to do that although vitamin pills and supplements can not begin to include the complex of phytonutrients, fibre and various assorted additional benefits of food (leaving aside the issues of desirability, taste, hospitality and social benefits).

There are several well-funded organisations that need to take some leadership here. Because what we have at the moment is a number of people who want to make dietary changes but something (or, more accurately, a complex portfolio of several contributory factors) is getting in the way. And several, well-funded businesses who want to convince people that it isn’t worth the effort and they should stop worrying their pretty little heads and take some pills.

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