Scientists have created detailed heat maps to show where adults consume the least fruit and veg and drink the most sugary beverages.
The maps, created by a team of experts at the University of Southampton using mathematical modelling, are based on national diet survey data.
Certain unhealthy neighborhoods had particularly low consumption of fruits and vegetables, high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, or both combined.
These neighborhoods were mostly in urban parts of northern England – including Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, while areas in Birmingham and Bristol, as well as the London Boroughs of Islington, Newham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, also score badly.
Sugar-sweetened beverages include Coca-Cola, Sprite and Fanta – and are packed with fructose, or fruit sugar, which can cause hepatic lipogenesis (the synthesis of fatty acids around the liver).
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Northern cities (Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester) and some boroughs of London (Camden, Haringey, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham) have the poorest level of fruit and vegetable consumption
Higher sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption was found in areas within London, notably Tower Hamlets, as well as Southampton, Portsmouth, Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool and Manchester
WHAT’S ONE PORTION OF FRUIT AND VEG?
One portion weighs 80g, which is roughly equivalent to:
– 1 to 2 slices of large fruit (mango, pineapple)
– 1 whole medium fruit (apple, banana, orange, pear
– 2 whole small fruits (kiwis, plums, satsumas)
– 1 whole root vegetable (carrot, parsnip, but NOT potatoes)
– 1-2 handfuls of berries (blueberries, raspberries)
– 0.5 to 1 whole medium to large vegetable (courgette, leek, pepper)
1 cereal bowl of salad leaves (lettuce, uncooked spinach)
Source: World Cancer Research Fund
They’re one of the largest sources of sugar intake in adults, and the largest single source of sugar for children aged 11 to 18 years, according to the NHS.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, has been led by Dr Dianna Smith, a lecturer in ‘health geography’ at the University of Southampton.
Her team’s findings could help inform targeted policies in specific regions to improve diet and health across England, Dr Smith claims.
‘We hope that this modelling will be taken up in local authorities to help identify areas where interventions to improve diet are most urgently needed,’ she said.
‘There are clear estimated spatial inequalities in diet across England, that will contribute to ongoing differences in health in the population.’
In particular, dietary improvement efforts should prioritise parts of London, as well as urban neighborhoods in some southern coastal cities and in northern England.
Targeted strategies, such as vouchers for fruits and vegetables in areas where consumption is low, could reduce ‘health inequalities’.
For their project, the researchers used data collected between 2008 and 2016 for the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
The national survey required English adults aged 16 and over to record all of the food and beverages they consumed over a period of four days.
Researchers applied a mathematical modelling method to the data, which included matching survey participants’ demographics to that of English neighbourhoods.
The NHS says we should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg per day, if one portion weighs 80 grams (stock image)
This enabled them to estimate adults’ dietary habits in 6,791 neighbourhoods across England. Other areas of the UK were not included.
Overall, across the whole of England, an estimated 6.9 per cent of adults were found to consume less than one portion of fruit, vegetables or 100 per cent fruit juice per day.
This ranged from 4.3 per cent to a whopping 14.7 per cent, depending on the area.
Meanwhile, an estimated 11.5 per cent were found to drink more than 330ml, or one typical can, of sugar-sweetened beverages per day.
These portions differ significantly from guideline recommendations, the experts point out.
WHAT DO THE MAPS SHOW?
Below are the original maps in the University of Southampton team’s paper, which has been published in PLOS One.
The portion of adults eating less than one portion of fruit and veg per day ranged from 4.3 per cent to 14.7 per cent, depending on the area.
Also, the portion of adults drinking more than a 330ml can of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) ranged from 5.7 per cent and 30.5 per cent, depending on area.
For the first map, the team highlighted the regions with the highest percentage (between 9.2 per cent and 14.7 per cent) of adults (aged 16 years and over) eating less than one portion of fruit and veg per day.
The lower percentage (4.3 per cent to 9.1 per cent) remained unhighlighted.
Adults consuming less than one portion of fruit and veg per day, by percentage and by region. The highest percentages (between 9.2 per cent and 14.7 per cent) are shaded in black. Notably, northern cities (Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester) and some boroughs of London (Camden, Haringey, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham) have higher rates of the poorest level of fruit and vegetable consumption as well as Birmingham and Southampton
For the second map, the team highlighted the regions with the highest percentage (between 14.3 per cent and 30.5 per cent) of adults (aged 16 years and over) drinking more than one 330ml can of sugary beverage per day.
The lower percentage (5.7 per cent to 14.2 per cent) remained unhighlighted.
Adults consuming more than 330ml (one can) of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) per day, by percentage and by region. The highest percentages are shaded in black Researchers found a ‘distinct geography’ of higher SSB consumption in areas within London, notably Tower Hamlets. ‘Several areas along the south coast (Southampton, Portsmouth, Bristol), the midlands (Birmingham, Nottingham) and North (Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester) also have relatively high prevalence of higher SSB consumption,’ they say
These areas may benefit from targeted approaches to improve diet, according to the study authors.
For example, the NHS has famously recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day for about 20 years, based on advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
‘Evidence shows there are significant health benefits to getting at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day,’ the NHS says on its website.
Only about one in 10 adults eat enough fruits or vegetables, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Research in 2017 by Diabetes UK found only 18 per cent Britons eat the recommended five portions every day.
And a study last year found millions of Britons think wine counts as one of our five-a-day because it is made from grapes.
As for sugary beverages, the NHS advises swapping them completely for water and even limiting consumption of unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies to no more than 150ml a day.
Soft drinks (excluding fruit juice) are one of the largest sources of sugar intake in adults, and the largest single source of sugar for children aged 11 to 18 years, according to the NHS
WHO recommends limiting daily sugar consumption to around 50 grams or, even better, 25 grams.
Meanwhile the NHS recommends adults have no more than 30g of free sugar – sugar added to a food or drink – per day.
Popular treats hide a surprising amount of sugar – a can of Coca Cola (35g of sugar) or one Mars bar (33g) contain more than the maximum recommended amount.
A study published earlier this year by University of Zurich researchers warned that consuming foods and drinks with even moderate amounts of added sugar doubles fat production in the liver, which can lead to fatty liver disease and Type 2 diabetes.
HOW MUCH SUGAR IS TOO MUCH?
The amount of sugar a person should eat in a day depends on how old they are.
Children aged four to six years old should be limited to a maximum of 19g per day.
Seven to 10-year-olds should have no more than 24g, and children aged 11 and over should have 30g or less.
Meanwhile the NHS recommends adults have no more than 30g of free sugars a day.
Popular snacks contain a surprising amount of sugar and even a single can of Coca Cola (35g of sugar) or one Mars bar (33g) contains more than the maximum amount of sugar a child should have over a whole day.
A bowl of Frosties contains 24g of sugar, meaning a 10-year-old who has Frosties for breakfast has probably reached their limit for the day before they even leave the house.
Children who eat too much sugar risk damaging their teeth, putting on fat and becoming overweight, and getting type 2 diabetes which increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.