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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 01:57 GMT
Men stick to junk food and beer
Chips are a main ingredient of men's diets
Chips are a main ingredient of men's diets
A third of men live on a diet of beer and fast food, say researchers.

But women are little better. A third of them swear by a "traditional British diet" made up of sugary foods like cakes.

The researchers say healthy eating campaigns must be failing.

They want to target particular dietary groups, rather than putting out a blanket message about a certain food.

Information from detailed surveys of 2,000 men and women and what they ate and drank in a week was used to judge eating patterns.

Men's diet
Beer/cider
Prepared meat
Chips
Processed meat
White bread

More than 90% of men and 86% of women fell into distinct dietary groups.

One in five men live off the "traditional British diet", which includes white bread, cakes other sugary foods and washing their food down with high quantities of tea.

People living in the north of England and in Scotland were found to have the least healthy diets.

Smokers, and those on low incomes also chose more unhealthy foods, while young people favoured fast food.

Seventeen per cent of men ate a "mixed sweet diet" - plenty of fish and fruit, but lots of cakes and pastries and high fat dairy products.

And a virtuous 17% ate a healthy high fibre and low fat diet.

'Target' message

Women also had bad eating habits, with a third preferred the traditional diet, which excludes fish and fruit, and includes alcohol.

One on five women ate a healthier 'cosmopolitan' diet - low in fat and processed foods, eating some vegetables, but with a high alcohol intake.

Fruit
Fresh fruit did not feature highly
One in four ate a diet dominated by convenience foods.

And 15% ate more healthily, but still consumed a relatively large amount of cakes and pastries.

The data is from the Dietary and Nutritional Survey of British Adults.

The researchers said: "Diet groups provide a more logical basis for developing and targeting public health nutrition policy than focussing on intakes of particular nutrients or foodstuffs."

Diet Advice

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation warned: "There's little doubt that, for many people, 'you are what you eat'."

Recent BHF statistics show a third of coronary heart disease deaths in the UK are linked to an unhealthy diet.

She added: "We are also concerned about the eating habits of young people, particularly those within lower socio-economic groups who appear to eat more high fat food and are less likely to consume the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

The Food Standards Agency, which runs healthy eating campaigns, said it was constantly looking for ways to get the healthy eating message across.

"It's about getting the message across in a way that's understood and responded to."

The research is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health.

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See also:

05 Dec 00 | Health
NHS 'faces 16bn obesity bill'
04 Dec 00 | Scotland
Scotland to get a 'fat controller'
21 Nov 00 | Scotland
Glasgow 'heart disease leader'
01 Jun 00 | Health
Children 'eating themselves ill'
31 Mar 99 | Health
The English get fatter
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