Skip to main content

Suppose we all ate a healthy diet... – University of Reading

Show access keys

Suppose we all ate a healthy diet...

Release Date 10 July 2006

salad on a forkFood consumption patterns would change dramatically if everyone ate a healthy diet, according to researchers at the University of Reading. If everyone followed official guidelines for healthy eating, consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables would increase by 50%, whilst consumption of cheese would decrease by 75%. The research not only shows how much change in overall consumption is implied by healthy eating recommendations, but also helps us to understand and assess how much agriculture and land use would need to adjust. Professor Bruce Traill, principal investigator of the Rural Economy and Land Use research project (RELU) at the University of Reading, said: "We know in general terms that we should eat more fruit and vegetables, limit fat and sugar intake and restrict total energy intake so as not to put on weight, but often we don't know how much we should adjust our own diets, let alone how much the country as a whole needs to adjust. "Both the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation have produced guidelines for intake of a range of nutrients, the more important ones being that intake of saturated fats should comprise less than 10% of total energy intake, sugar also less than 10% and fruit and vegetable intake should be above 400 grams per day. "But data show that in 2003-04, saturated fat and sugar intakes were around 40% too high, while fruit and vegetable consumption was about 20% below the guideline." Key results from the Reading research shows that there would have to be vast changes in food consumption for the healthy eating guidelines to be met: • Various categories of fruit and vegetables, bread and fish, would have to increase by between 40% and 50%. • Biggest losers are cheese (down 75%), confectionery, sugar and soft drinks (all down 30-35%). Meat and milk consumption would fall by around 15%, fats (vegetable oils, butter and margarine) by about 20%. • Some of the biggest adjustments would be required in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where fresh vegetable intake would virtually double while cut-backs in soft drinks, confectionery, sugar and cheese would be sharper than in England or Wales. • Those educated to the age of 16 also have notably lower current intakes of fruit and vegetables and would need to adjust most dramatically to meet the recommendations with fruit and vegetable consumption having to rise by 60-70%, almost double the adjustment required of people educated to age 22 or beyond. The less highly educated also need to cut back more on cheese, soft drinks, sugar and confectionery. The Reading researchers' conclusions are based on data from the Government's Expenditure and Food Survey, which shows food consumption patterns for 7000 households. The researchers made the simplifying assumption that people choose their present food consumption patterns because they represent their 'favourite' diets given their personal food preferences, incomes, time pressures and existing food prices; and that in changing to a healthy diet, people would change their existing food consumption as little as possible. Professor Traill, of the University's said: "Another stage of the research project will look at the impact of consumption changes on land use, imports and exports, where there are clear trade-offs. For example, if all of the increased fruit and vegetable consumption were met from imports, there would be no impact on UK land use, though those concerned with food miles might worry. "If all of the adjustments were made through UK farm-output changes, there would be substantially increased land under fruit and vegetables and cereals and cut-backs in livestock farming. The final outcome will lie between these extremes and depend upon the ability of farming to adjust and the preference, if any, of consumers for home produced foods." End Notes for editors 1. 'Food consumption changes in the UK under compliance with dietary guidelines' was undertaken by Matthieu Arnoult as part of the RELU project Implications of a nutrition driven food policy for land use and the rural environment. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the project aims to examine the potential for the development of sustainable UK food chains capable of delivering healthy foods that consumers wish to buy at prices they are willing to pay and to assess the impact on land use and the rural environment and economy. For more information, please visit: 2. For media enquiries, please contact: Professor Bruce Traill, Professor of Agricultural & Food Economics, The University of Reading Tel: 0118 378 8389 Email: Craig Hillsley, Press Officer, The University of Reading Tel: 0118 378 7388 Email:

We use Javascript to improve your experience on, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.