Press Release

Children urged to move in line with healthy eating guidelines

Correlation between fruit & veg consumption and overall good health reported

Research findings, announced today, revealed a correlation between a wide range of positive health behaviours and the consumption of fruit and vegetables, amongst school children.

Whilst in general, more adults are eating the recommend four or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily, young people are still not consuming this recommended amount, which is essential for long-term health benefits.

The announcement was made by the Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin T.D., who was joined by Bord Glas CEO, Michael Maloney, for the launch of Focus on Fruit, a new joint promotion by the Health Promotion Unit and Bord Glas.

The research*, undertaken by the Department of Health and Children, highlighted that only 36% of school-aged girls and 29% of boys reported eating one or more pieces of fruit per day. Consumption of vegetables amongst young people is also lower than guidelines recommend, with 43% of girls and 37% of boys consuming just one or more portions each day.

Minister urges improvement

Commenting at the launch, Minister Martin said; “We have noticed a change in consumption patterns and eating behaviour over the past few years and there have certainly been some noted general improvements, many of which are attributable to the work of the Health Promotion Unit and Bord Glas. However, this research has revealed some worrying results in relation to fruit and vegetable consumption amongst young people. The level of fruit consumption amongst young people has fallen, since 1998, by almost half. Although not as dramatic, vegetable consumption has also decreased”.

“Anecdotally, more people are aware of the health benefits of these foods, so it is a major cause of concern that despite this awareness, young people are not consuming enough to meet the recommended guidelines. Our challenge is to keep healthy eating firmly on the agenda, to help ensure that Irish people are encouraged to make real changes, however small, in order to reap the maximum health benefits from what they eat. The benefits of fruit and vegetables are well documented and they are essential for overall good health”.

“For this year´s promotion, I am urging everyone, particularly young people, to Focus on Fruit and eat just extra portion of fruit, every day.”

Bord Glas reports on intervention programme

Micheal Maloney of Bord Glas continued; “Our most recent research (Source: MRBI) concurs that more adults are eating the recommended four or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day. However, consumption still tends to be lower among younger people and lower income groups. The key issue among these groups is to convert their awareness of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables, into consumption”.

“To address this objective, on a long-term basis, Bord Glas initiated an intervention programme in selected primary schools called the Bangor Programme. This project involves the introduction of peer modelling, videos, fruit and vegetables for lunchtimes, rewards for children and home packs for parents. Preliminary results from this programme indicate that the average percentage of vegetables consumed by the children increased from 24% to 62% and the average percentage of fruit consumed increased from 57% to 72%”.

“The Bangor Project Team has conducted research into child behaviour and devised a programme to increase children´s consumption of fruit and vegetables in over 300 schools (UK), over the past ten years. The results show a large and long-lasting increase in consumption among students in the project and this is the model which, with the support of other partners, we introduced to Ireland, last autumn”.

Correlation between consumption and good health behaviour patterns

The SLÁN study concluded that there is a correlation between higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption and overall good health behaviour, amongst young people. The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children study (HBSC), conducted amongst 5,712 school children, showed that those consuming a higher consumption of fruit and/or vegetables;

  • Were more physically active;
  • Had a higher reporting of ‘excellent levels of health’;
  • Were less likely to have tried alcohol;
  • Were less likely to have tried smoking;
  • Were more likely to brush their teeth more regularly;
  • Were more likely to eat breakfast.

Ursula O´Dwyer, Consultant Dietetian with the Health Promotion Unit, said; “It is interesting to note that those young people who consume higher amounts of fruit and vegetables also report better levels of health and health behaviour than their ´non-complying´ peers. We are cognisant that there may be other factors at play here such as social or environmental influences, but there does appear to be a direct correlation between healthy eating and overall health”.

“One of the emerging problem areas within the study however, is the increase in the consumption of fried foods, four or more times a week. This is particularly prevalent amongst men in the 18-35 age bracket (24%). This is somewhat understandable considering the ongoing changes in modern lifestyles, which mean that people appear to have less time and are always on the go. However, when you consider the convenience and availability of fruit, there really is no excuse for not getting the balance right”.

“In Ireland, almost as many people are overweight as normal weight (47% overweight). This statistic indicates that, as a nation, we really need to change our attitude and for long-term health, combine healthy eating with regular activity. This means plenty of fruit and vegetables and it means starting now.”

The joint Health Promotion Unit / Bord Glas Focus on Fruit promotion takes place nationally this week, with a number of Health Board initiatives as well as a wide range of activities taking place with local media, schools, retailer, hospitals and work places.

The key message is on ´Four or More´, fruit, vegetables and/or fruit juice, with an emphasis on the convenience, versatility and great taste of fruit.

Fast Fruit – the Tasty Way to Snack is the promotional theme, aimed at encouraging everyone, particularly younger age groups, to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Health benefits of eating fruit

  • Tasty and versatile
  • Quick and easy to prepare
  • Nutritious (high in Vitamins A, C and E and folic acid)
  • Fresh fruit is good value for money (when in full season)
  • Good source of fibre and roughage
  • Good for your eyesight, hair, skin and nails
  • Virtually fat free and low in calories
  • Assists in the prevention of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers

* The National Health & Lifestyle Survey (SLÁN) and The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey (HBSC).

Minister´s Speech