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Report points to lack of public awareness of health guidelines

19 December 2008

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Most people do not know the government guidelines for healthy eating, drinking and exercise, suggests a report from The NHS Information Centre.

The report shows that:

  • More than two thirds of men and of women did not know or underestimated how much exercise they should be taking to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Less than a third of men and women knew the maximum amount of alcohol they should be drinking each day.
  • While most adults knew they should eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, only 14% of men and 11% of women knew what constituted a portion.

The survey report, the Health Survey for England, monitors the health of the nation. The 2007 survey focused on knowledge of and attitudes to key aspects of lifestyle behaviour – drinking, eating and physical activity.

On obesity, the report showed the proportion of adults who are obese increased from 13% for men and 16% for women in 1993 to 24% for both men and women in 2007.

Yet, despite the lack of awareness of official advice, figures published in the report indicate both physical activity and consumption of fruit and vegetables have been increasing.

The survey also looked at the impact of the recent smokefree legislation which was introduced in July 2007. The report finds no evidence that fewer people smoke as a result of the ban. However, cotinine levels in people’s saliva show that, since the introduction of the ban, smokers may be smoking less.

Medical director of The NHS Information Centre and practising GP, Dr Mark Davies, said: “It is important that people understand the health implications of the lifestyle choices they make. 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.”

Health Survey for England 2007