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Healthy lifestyles – behaviours, awareness and barriers to change

Posted on 26 October 2011 .
Tags: Health Survey for England, health and lifestyle, society, obesity, wellbeing

Earlier this month the Government published its latest obesity report ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A call to action on obesity in England’, which follows the Public Health White Paper at the end of 2010. The Government has called on the food and drink industry to help people reduce their calorie intake as part of the Responsibility Deal Food Network, an initiative based on self-regulation involving a series of core commitments and voluntary supporting pledges from businesses, the voluntary sector and other organisations. Plans for the future direction of Change4Life, the marketing component of the Government’s anti-obesity campaign, were also announced on the same day. The goal of Change4Life is to help every family in England to ‘eat well, move more and live longer’ and a new advert has recently been running on television.

It will be interesting to see what effect current initiatives have on healthy eating/living behaviours. We examined eating behaviours (particularly in respect of the ‘5-A-DAY’ initiative) and barriers to adopting a healthy lifestyle as part of the Health Survey for England 2007 reporting. We found that 27% of men and 31% of women eat their five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Knowledge about the number of portions recommended in the guidelines (five) was relatively high overall; however younger people were more likely to correctly identify what constitutes a ‘portion’. This suggests that awareness of the 5-A-DAY campaign may be greater among the young. However, this knowledge was not necessarily translated into dietary behaviour, with fruit and vegetable consumption being lowest among those aged 16-24.

Most people feel they would benefit from changing their diet. But what were the barriers preventing them from achieving this? The most common reasons given were lack of time, cost and finding it difficult to change habits. In terms of physical activity, most participants also said that they would like to be more active than they currently were, but cited work commitments and lack of leisure time as barriers.

Most adults agreed that ‘Healthy foods are enjoyable’ and that ‘I really care about what I eat’, and most disagreed that ‘Healthy eating is just a fad’. However, there were significant differences in knowledge, attitudes and behaviour between men and women, and between age and income groups.

This suggests that different groups need to be targeted with different messages, information and encouragement to adopt healthy lifestyles. In relation to the current and future public health initiatives, they are to be driven very much at a local level and it is encouraging to see that they should be tailored at the needs of specific population groups. It will be interesting to see developments in this area over the coming months.

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