An annual survey has shown that despite the the continued messages on health from the government and the media, many people are baffled by mixed messages on health and don’t understand the guidelines on fruit, vegetables, alcohol and exercise. Most adults knew they should eat five portions of fruit or veg a day, but few knew what constituted a portion, the Health Survey for England found. Over two thirds did not know or under-estimated how much exercise to do. And less than a third of adults knew the maximum amount of alcohol they should be drinking each day.
Only 14% of men knew that four units was the recommended daily maximum for a man and 6% of women knew that three units was the recommended daily maximum for a woman. Overall, 42% of men and 31% of women had drunk more than the recommended maximum on at least one day in the last week. Despite the confusion, the figures published from the annual survey, which monitors the health of the nation, suggest people are leading healthier lifestyles by eating more fruit and veg and doing more exercise.
Overall, 27% of men and 31% of women met the recommended guidelines of eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day. But only 14% of men and 11% of women knew what constituted a portion – 80g. From a list of varying portion sizes of fruit and vegetables – two tablespoons of carrots; two cherry tomatoes; one apple; one melon; one jacket potato; four grapes – few identified the apple as the only correct one. Yet obesity is still on the increase in adults – 24% of men and women in 2007 were obese up from 13% of men and 16% of women in 1993. In children, however, obesity rates may be beginning to level out. The survey of nearly 7,000 adults and over 7,500 children also looked at the impact of the recent smoke-free legislation introduced in July 2007.
It found no evidence that fewer people smoked as a result of the ban.
However, cotinine levels in people’s saliva – an indicator of recent nicotine exposure – showed that, since the introduction of the ban, smokers may be smoking less. Medical director of The NHS Information Centre Dr Mark Davies said: “It is of concern that the messages of safe alcohol intake, appropriate exercise levels, and healthy eating do not seem to be getting through to all parts of the population. “This is something the country needs to address if we are to avoid significant health problems in the near future.” Betty McBride of the British Heart Foundation said: “It’s really worrying that people aren’t clear how much exercise you need for a healthy heart.” Alcohol Concern said drinks manufacturers should be forced to put labels on bottles and cans of alcoholic drinks showing the unit content and safe limits. Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said: “It’s good to see that more people are taking steps to live more healthily. But too many people are overweight. In the new year we will launch our ambitious Change4Life movement. Change4Life will help families to move more, eat well and live longer.”
So what are the guidelines? As we are constantly telling our personal training clients in London, all you need is a little common sense. Try to avoid any food that has been processed or messed with in any way by man. By doing this you will be following the wholefood diet, and will get a well rounded balance of all the important food groups. There are full personal trainer insider guidelines on our fact sheets, both for nutrition and personal trainer recommendations or exercise. You can download these for free from our “The Knowledge” page. Remember that although the guidelines for cardiovascular exercise are 5 lots of 30 minutes of moderate exercise, short bursts (like interval training) can be even more effective in maintaining a healthy heart, and can improve fitness more quickly. The number of sessions you need a week at this higher intensity can drop to 3 a week and still be effective. Also remember that resistance training is a vital component of any health or weight loss programme, and will make you feel strong, functional and healthy.