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Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 00:07 GMT


Fitness fanatics and couch potatoes

These are a few of Britons' favourite things

More Britons than ever before are aware of the need for a healthy, well-balanced diet but spending on convenience food has shot up over the last 10 years.

And while exercise has become one of the UK's top leisure pursuits, more people are spending time stuck in front of the television eating snacks.

Special Report: British Lifestyles
Also, more people are smoking - albeit less heavily than in previous generations.

The findings come in the annual British Lifestyles survey conducted by Mintel.

BBC Consumer Affairs Correspondent June Kelly reports
It shows that while awareness of health issues is increasing, unhealthy pursuits remain popular.

Britons spent £931m on health and fitness over the last 12 months, although the £600m spent on pizza from the supermarket in the same period casts doubt on their commitment to an all-round healthy lifestyle.

Boom industry

Mintel's head of research Paul Rickard said: "Alongside the cinema, health and fitness stands out as the activity of the moment.

"Our obsession with health continues unabated and the health and fitness industry is now worth £931m in the UK - it's grown almost 40% over the last five years."

But the survey also found that snacking in front of the television was on the increase.

Dr Ian Banks, a GP taking part in the BBC's Fighting Fat, Fighting Fit campaign, offered one way to combine the two pastimes.

He said: "Just losing the batteries from the remote control for your television set is equivalent to losing two pounds a year in terms of the extra exercise you do changing channels."

Nutritional confusion

In other areas of health and nutrition, the UK was also confused, according to the survey.

[ image: Pizza sales are growing faster than those of fruit and vegetables]
Pizza sales are growing faster than those of fruit and vegetables
It found that while a majority of people say they eat more healthily these days, 29% said they did not care what they ate "as long as it tastes good".

Although the number of people who said their stable diet consisted of "meat and two veg" had risen since 1994, so had sales of convenience foods, indicating a decline in popularity of traditional sit-down meals.

This has been blamed for the rise in obesity and the number of people who are overweight in Britain.

Gaynor Bussell, a spokewoman for the British Dietetic Association, said: "People are not sitting down to proper meals, they're grazing.

"People grab something, and grabbing something doesn't usually include vegetables. People go for high-density foods like burgers."

Long-term health

Traditional convenience foods such as cakes and biscuits were making way for crisps and nuts, the survey found, as consumers swap sugar for salt and spices.

[ image: More people are smoking
More people are smoking "in moderation"
Sugar, especially when consumed in frequent short bursts as in snacks, harms teeth. An excessive salt intake, however, leads to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Also revealing an incautious attitude to long-term health was the finding that the number of smokers rose in the period 1996 to 1998 - bucking a decline that had been steady over the previous 10 years.

The survey found that although there were more smokers, they were smoking less. There were lower numbers of "heavy smokers" and higher numbers of "medium and light" smokers.

People are taking steps to remedy the gaps in their diet, with the survey showing a 52% rise in sales of vitamin supplements from 1988 to 1998.

Alcohol consumption is following continental European trends with a move away from beer to soft drinks and wine.

The survey said this was due to a decline in drinking at home and "increasing consumer sophistication".

Previous studies

Earlier this month, a Gallup poll conducted on behalf of the BBC found that almost 40% of the UK population never take any exercise and just as many believe they are overweight or very overweight.

It also found that only one person in 10 claims to eat the recommended daily five portions of fruit and vegetables - the average is three portions a day.

And in September last year the Chief Medical Officer's annual report found that people in the UK are living longer, but getting fatter.

It also found that the number of people classed as obese and the number of child smokers is on the rise.

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