Research conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) among over 27,500 children across the UK, shows that nearly a third (29 per cent) of primary school children think that cheese comes from plants, one in ten secondary school children believe that tomatoes grow under the ground, and nearly one in five (18 per cent) primary school children say that fish fingers come from chicken.
The survey, the largest of its kind, was conducted as part of the BNF's Healthy Eating Week, launched today by HRH The Princess Royal. More than 3,000 schools are participating in the Week during which over 1.2 million children will be learning valuable lessons about healthy eating, cooking and where foods come from.
Roy Ballam, Education Programme Manager at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "Schools throughout the UK require a national framework and guidance for food and nutrition education to support the learning needs of children and young people, especially at a time when levels of childhood obesity are soaring. Through Healthy Eating Week, we hope to start the process of re-engaging children with the origins of food, nutrition and cooking, so that they grow up with a fuller understanding of how food reaches them and what a healthy diet and lifestyle consists of. The fact that so many schools in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have registered to participate in the Week demonstrates their understanding of how important healthy eating is and their commitment to giving children a solid grounding from which to create healthy lives for themselves."
Further findings of the BNF study reveal that an encouraging number of the youngest primary school children recognise the eatwell plate* - 64 per cent of 5-8 year olds identified it correctly from four different images. However, when presented with four pie charts and asked which best represented the eatwell plate, less than half (45 per cent) of 8-11 year olds answered correctly.
Over three quarters (77 per cent) of primary school children and nearly nine out of every ten (88 per cent) secondary school pupils know that people should consume five or more portions of fruit and vegetables each day. However, 67 per cent of primary school children and 81 per cent of secondary school pupils reported eating four or less portions of fruit and vegetables daily, while two in every five children at secondary school don't think that frozen fruit and vegetables count towards their five a day.
The research also shows that an alarming number of children do not eat breakfast each morning, which increases with the age of the children. On the day of the survey, eight per cent of primary school children said they hadn't eaten breakfast that morning; this increased to nearly a quarter (24 per cent) in 11-14 year olds, and then to over a third (32 per cent) of 14-16 year olds. When quizzed on the more general point as to whether they have breakfast each morning, six per cent of primary school children, 19 per cent of 11-14 year olds and a quarter of 14-16 year olds reported not eating breakfast every day.
Scientific evidence confirms that consumption of fish, in particular oily fish, is beneficial to health. National recommendations are that children and adults should consume at least two portions of fish each week. However, in the BNF survey 16 per cent of children of primary school age and one in five children of secondary school age said they never eat fish. Averaged across all age groups, from five to 16 years old, only 17 per cent of children in the UK said they eat fish twice a week.
The BNF research also looks at reported home cooking behaviour and shows that 17 per cent of primary school children and 19 per cent of secondary school children cook at home either every day or once a week. However, nine per cent of children at primary school and 11 per cent of children at secondary school never cook at home. Encouragingly, 84 per cent of primary school children and nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of secondary school children would like to cook more and an average of 85 per cent of children across all age groups say that they enjoy cooking.
Ballam concluded: "Through this survey one in five (21 per cent) primary school children and 18 per cent of secondary school pupils told us that they have never visited a farm. This may go part way to explaining why over a third (34 per cent) of 5-8 year olds and 17 per cent of 8-11 year olds believe that pasta comes from animals."