People are eating as badly as they were 10 years ago despite the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money on advertsing campaigns on fruit and vegetables, saturated fat and other health issues, the Government’s food watchdog admitted yesterday.

In a nationwide nutrition survey, the Food Standards Agency found that the majority of people were still eating too many processed foods and sweets and not enough oily fish and fresh fruit and vegetables. Adults ate twice as much sausages as white fish, and boys almost equalled their consumption of salad and other raw vegetables with chocolate. Teenagers ate five times as much white as wholemeal bread.

The survey suggests that the Government has made little headway in reducing the diet-related ill-health, which the Cabinet Office estimated last year costs 70,000 lives and £6billion to the NHS annually.

Among its findings were:

* 35 per cent of adults eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

* the figure for teenagers is 15 per cent

* children’s milk consumption has fallen

* fibre remains below the Government target

* people are eating half the recommended amount of oily fish

* average biodymass has increased, making 60 per cent of adults are overweight or obese

Alison Tedstone, FSA head of nutrition research, said: “Overall, these results show that the diet on the population has not changed much since 2000. We are still seeing lots of people not achieiving the recommendations for macro nutrients, but there have been some suggestions of positive improvements.”

Since 1997, when Labour came to power, ministers have launched a series of high-profile public campaigns to improve diets, including Health Action Zones in poor food areas, the five-a-day fruit and vegetables campaign, the school fruit programme, and the change4life campaign on obesity.

Separately the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched the Sid the Slug anti-salt campaign, urged manufacturers to cut out trans-fats, and run a campaign to educate the public about saturated fat.

Of these, the only significant improvements have been seen in salt reduction and trans fats, showed the National Diet and Nutrition Survey published yesterday.

The FSA asked 500 adults and 500 children to keep a diary for four days of what they ate, measured their weight and height and took blood samples and researchers checked the results against a nutrition survey done in 2000 and against the Government’s own recommendations for nutrition. The food diary and weight measurements were released yesterday.

Richard Watts of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming said: “After 10 years of largely small, weak or voluntary initiatives, like Change4Life, we have seen little improvement in the nation's diet.

“Where the government has introduced tough rules, such as improving school food, genuine progress has been made but unless we really challenge our 'obeseogenic' culture by doing things like introducing proper protections from junk food marketing, these worrying trends will continue.”

Overall fat levels had remained about the same as 10 years ago – in line with the Government target of 35 per cent of energy intake – but consumption of saturated fat, linked to obesity and heart disease, had barely changed and was still 20 per cent above the target.

More starch and sugar came from fruit and milk and a little less from added sugars, but both missed guidelines by 20 per cent.

Few people met their target for eating one portion of oily fish a week. There was some improvement in the diet of young children, but the nutrition of teenagers was particularly poor, especially among girls. Half of teenage girls risked tiredness and anaemia by failing to eat enough iron.

Some of the most disappointing results related to the Government’s attempts to improve consumption of fruit and vegetables, with little more than a third of adults and about 15 per cent teenagers eating five portions a day. Among teenage girls, the figure was 7 per cent.

Although the FSA changed the methodology for measuring the target, increasing the average number of portions consumed from about 2.7 to 4.4 for adults, the agency said the figures “suggested there was no sign of an increase in adults.”

On the plus side, consumption of arterty-hardening trans-fats had fallen by a third and totalled 0.8 per cent of the adult diet against a Government target of 2 per cent. Salt intake also dropped compared with 2000, an improvement believed to be related to progressive salt reductions by the food industry.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “One of the things we are encouraged by is that there’s much more awareness and 5 a day is onen of the best health mesasges out there and now the challenge is to convert that awareness into actual increases in intakes.”

Tom Sanders, professor of human nutrition at King’s College, London, suggested the survey had probably under-estimated food intake by relying on self-reporting on four days. “People are continuing to get fat. They are drinking more and women are drinking large amounts,” he said.

He suggested the Government’s focus on the five-a-day campaign had been a mistake because evidence showed that making improvements to the offer of food rather than relying on individuals. Schools should, he said, increase the teaching of cooking; supermarkets end ‘buy on get one free’ offers; cafes, restaurants and other catering outlets stop suggesting larger or extra portions through upselling and manufacturers introduce the FSA’s traffic light labelling system with guideline daily amounts and calorie counts.

Professor Sanders said: “All the sucecssful nutrition interventions have always been about modifying the food supply rather than changing individual’s behaviour.”

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