Adults and children are falling well short of eating the recommended amount of vegetables each day despite business efforts to promote greater consumption.
A new report by the Food Foundation found diets low in vegetables and legumes are associated with almost 18,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.
It found a third (29%) of children aged 5-10 years old eat less than one portion of veg a day, while just 6% of children aged 11-16 years old are currently meeting the government’s Eatwell Guide recommendation for eating around 3.5 portions of vegetables a day.
Adults only fare marginally better with 77% eating less than the recommended amount of daily vegetables.
The Food Foundation is attempting to drive up vegetable consumption through its Peas Please campaign which now has more than 100 organisations committed to serving or promoting more vegetables.
The charity says Peas Please has made good progress since its inception, delivering 162 million additional portions of vegetables into the food system across all four nations of the UK, but it says much more remains to be done if the campaign is to have an impact on dietary patterns at a population level.
The Veg Facts 2021 report also identified a trend for a significant proportion of vegetable consumption to come from foods classified as ultra-processed. A fifth (20%) of children’s vegetable intake now comes from these types of foods, which are increasingly being linked with serious illness, with pizza and baked beans accounting for 16% of children’s vegetable intake.
Just 1.9% of food and drink advertising spend, meanwhile, currently goes towards vegetables, compared to the 17.5% that goes on confectionery.
The affordability of vegetables is highlighted as being a major factor in low consumption rates. Calorie for calorie, foods high in sugar or fat are a third of the price of the cost of vegetables.
Increasing vegetable intake so that everybody eats five portions a day could contribute eight additional months to the UK’s average life expectancy and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 8.2%, the report says.