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Dr Susan Jebb
"The whole pattern of children's eating has changed quite dramatically"
 real 28k

The BBC's Richard Hannaford
"Researchers say 1950s children had a better diet because they had more vitamins, minerals and fibre"
 real 28k

Ursula Arens of the British Nutrition Foundation
"They ate more fat in the fifties but they were doing more exercise"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 08:12 GMT
Children's diet better in 1950s
Modern children's meals are less nutritious than in the 1950s

Child nutrition in the 1950s was superior to the 1990s, according to researchers - despite the food shortages of the post-war period.

Modern children fare worse for intake of several key nutrients, including fibre, calcium, vitamins and iron.

The project looked at the diet records of 4,600 children aged four in 1950, and compared them with similar records taken in 1992.

The researchers discovered that 1950s children:
  • Ate more bread and milk, increasing their fibre and calcium intake
  • Drank few soft drinks, deriving less of their energy from sugar
  • Got most of their vitamin C from vegetables rather than juices and drinks
  • Ate more red meat, giving them more iron
  • Had more fat in their diet
In fact, the 1950s diet was almost in line with current recommendations on healthy eating for children.

Professor Michael Wadsworth, Director of the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, said that it was an indication of the complete change in children's lifestyle over the years.

He said: "In 1950, the average diet was still influenced by post-war austerity but this study shows that the food and nutrient intake of young children at the time was better than today.

"The children's higher calcium intake could have potential benefits for their bone health in later life, while their vegetable consumption may protect them against heart and respiratory disease and some forms of cancer."

Babies and children get more energy from sugar
He said that, although the fat and overall calorie intake of the 1950s child was higher, generally children were more active than their 1990s counterparts.

It is only in recent years that the problem of childhood obesity has emerged as a major public health threat.

Estimates in 1990 suggested that one in 20 children aged nine to 11 could be classified as clinically obese.

However, a string of recent smaller studies is suggesting the true rate could now be well in excess of this.

Healthy eating project

Dr Mary Rudolf, a community paediatrician from Leeds, is involved with a primary school-based project which aimed to change the eating habits of schoolchildren.

This project discovered that a massive 14% of children in this age group were obese.

She said: "It's so difficult to tackle adult obesity, so the only option is to take preventive measures in childhood."

Senior lecturer in dietetics at the University of Leeds, Pinki Sahota, said that the project had encouraged schools to make changes to their meals, and introduce both more exercise and healthy eating advice into the curriculum.

"Obesity is a real public health issue," she said. "We need to educate people to make healthier eating choices."

Although obese children do not suffer huge health problems while in childhood, except perhaps for those caused by the overloading of the joints, being obese greatly increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

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See also:
26 Nov 99 |  UK
Is British cooking still a dog's dinner?
30 Jun 99 |  Health
Report to blast child health policy
24 Oct 99 |  Health
Starved babies 'become obese adults'

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