Are the British and Irish really the best consumers of fruit and vegetables in the world? I doubt it | Devi Sridhar

Aat the dawn of the new year, headlines reported that the UK and Ireland were ranked as “the best in the world for fruit and vegetable consumption”. And that seemed surprising to me, as a public health expert. Just for economic reasons, the British imports 50% of its vegetables and 84% of its fruits – largely from Europe, Africa and the Americas. These foods are relatively expensive in the UK, costing on average £11.79 per 1,000 kcal, compared to £5.82 per 1,000 kcal of processed food. And this at a time when household incomes are limited. Cucumbersfor example, saw its price increase by more than 50% between 2022 and 2023.

And of course, the UK and Ireland just aren’t known for having the healthiest diets. Scotland invented the deep fried Mars bar. Could Brits really be eating more fruit and vegetables than our European neighbors like Italy, Spain, France, Denmark and Greece? I had to investigate.

I traced the stories back to a related report » which was produced by the OECD, entitled Health at a Glance 2023, which compares health performance in OECD countries and some emerging economies. And yes, Figure 4.10 shows that Britain and Ireland have the highest percentage of what the OECD calls “a daily consumption of five or more servings of fruit and vegetables in 2019, or the year closer “. It should be noted, however, that this data dates from before the finalization of Brexit. Brexit has increased overall food prices of 6% and recent years have been marked by shortages of fruits and vegetables described as “new normal“. This food data must therefore first be considered as a snapshot of the past: before Brexit, before Covid-19 and before the cost of living crisis.

Going further, the quality of any study lies in the methodology. Ask a principal investigator which two parts of a study they read first, and its methodology followed by financial support – in short, how did the authors find the answers and how did that work? Was he paid? THE OECD study builds on precedent European Health Interview Survey (EHIS), which involved people from various countries self-reporting their health status. Respondents were asked to answer variations of the question “How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat per day?” ” and their responses provided the data.

The self-reported method is the standard approach to dietary surveys. But we know other studies that if you compare what people say they eat with the objective measurement of nutrients they consume, there is systemic misreporting. People can misunderstand the question, misunderstand the sometimes obscure rules about what counts as fruits and vegetables, misjudge how much they actually eat, or even outright lie. Simply put, what people say they eat is not necessarily what they actually eat.

Health surveys place great emphasis on diet, as unhealthy diets are a key risk factor for obesity and chronic disease: an estimated 25.9% of adults in England are obese, and 37.9% Additional % are overweight in the rest of the world. Health Survey for England 2021. These numbers have increased over the past decade. The United Kingdom also much higher levels of obesity as Greece, Spain, Germany, France or Italy. Along with the increase in obesity, there has been an increase in related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer.

In addition, more than 800,000 patients were hospitalized for malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies in England and Wales in 2022. Most of these were people eating a diet high in calories but lacking essential nutrients (such as proteins, vitamins and minerals). ). Dietary deficiencies in childhood are reflected in height: it is clearly established that “the greater the deprivation, the smaller the child”. Data shows that children in the UK are getting shorter compared to other countries, and it was stated that the average height of a five-year-old in the UK has probably fallen due to increasing child poverty and the Tories’ austerity policies.

The UK is therefore facing major public health issues relating to (but not limited to) diet. I don’t think anyone would dispute that.

If you want a more reliable and valid measure of a country’s health, child height and general well-being are probably best. Before getting excited about Britain being a “world leader” in yet another area, the headlines should have said specifically: “People in UK and Ireland say they are the best in the world to eat fruit and vegetables, before Brexit. » As we know in public health research, just because someone says they ate something doesn’t mean they actually did.

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