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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 June, 2005, 23:14 GMT 00:14 UK
Boys less likely to eat healthily
A widespread favourite for boys and girls alike
Boys are more reluctant than girls to be tempted by Jamie Oliver-style healthy school dinners, research shows.

A survey of 1,300 children by Cancer Research UK found more boys than girls who liked unhealthy, fatty and sugary foods, meat, processed meat and eggs.

The girls questioned in the survey were more likely to enjoy fruit and vegetables - which can help to reduce the risk of cancer later in life.

The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Ice cream
Chocolate biscuits
Fruit juice

The sample of around 1,300 children aged four to 16 were asked to rate 115 different items of food.

The results showed unhealthy foods such as chocolate, pizza and ice cream were favourites for both boys and girls.

Some fruit, such as strawberries and grapes, did feature in the top 10.

But healthy vegetables such as spinach, leeks, marrow, swede, sprouts and turnips were all rated among the least popular foods.

Not enough vegetables

Lead researcher Lucy Cooke said: "The results of the questionnaire clearly show that children prefer unhealthy foods.

Fruit juice

"Girls tend to like - and actually eat - fruit and vegetables more than boys and this is particularly so in the teenage years when girls become more conscious of their diet and how they look.

"But levels are still far lower than they should be for a healthy balanced diet."

Professor Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK's health behaviour unit, said: "Diet plays an essential role in our health throughout life and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables can reduce the risk of cancer.

"We know that adult obesity increases cancer risk and eating a balanced diet helps maintain a healthy weight.

"This means that it is very important for children to learn good eating habits when they are young to help reduce their cancer risk in later life.

"This study shows that children's preferences are not consistent with a healthy diet and that boys in particular need to be encouraged to eat healthier foods.

"But research has shown that children can learn to like foods more if they try them often enough.

"So providing healthy foods in schools would make a valuable contribution to improving children's diets in the future."

Education call

The charity is calling for education on healthy eating in schools.

It said teachers should be given information on the best way to help children learn about the advantages of eating fruit and vegetables and the effects of being seriously overweight.

The government announced a 280m initiative in March to improve school dinners.

The announcement followed a high profile television campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has said there will be no excuse for serving poor quality meals.

Some 15,000 kitchen workers in England are to begin courses from September, covering how to prepare fresh food.

TV chef welcomes 280m meals plan
30 Mar 05 |  Education
'No excuse' for poor school meals
01 Jun 05 |  Education

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