New insights from the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey

People are eating too many sugars and not enough fibre, while meat consumption continues to decline.

21 March 2018

Meet the Expert

Who: Dr. Laura Wyness

What: Independent registered nutritionist


The latest data from the rolling programme of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) was published on Friday. The report presents an overview of food consumption, nutrient intake and nutritional status from 2014/15 to 2015/16.

So does it show any signs our diet is improving? And what does the population’s nutrient status look like? Here’s a summary of the key findings.

Free sugars

Compared to 10 years ago, the consumption of free sugars fell in children aged 4-10 and 11-18, as well as in adult men. It is thought this reduction is partly due to a decline in the amount of sugar-sweetened soft drinks gulped down.

However, intakes of free sugars were still more than double the recommended maximum of 5% total energy in all age groups. Only 1% of girls and 3% of boys aged 4-10 years hit the mark.


The amount of fibre eaten by adults ranged from 15-21g a day, which is far below the 30g ideal. Children also lacked enough of the nutrient in their diet – and evidence suggests levels are falling.


In terms of total fat, all age groups (except older adults aged 75+ years) met the recommendation of no more than 35% of food energy. Trans fats remained well below the limit of 2% of food energy.

Less positive is the presence of saturated fat, which in all age groups is still above 11% food energy, with no indication of a downward trend in sight.

Fruit and vegetables

On average, adults consumed 4.2 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Intake in teenagers (11-18 year olds) remained particularly low at 2.7 portions a day, and less than 1 in 10 teenagers and around 3 in 10 adults managed to eat their five-a-day.

Fewer older adults (aged 65+ years) seem to be meeting the target too, when compared with figures from the first NDNS.

Red and processed meat

Red and processed meat in adults (aged 19-64) maintained their decline – the average is now 62g a day. Consumption in adult women continued to meet the recommendation of no more than 70g a day, but men still need to tame their carnivorous urges (tearing into around 77g a day for ages 19-64).

Oily fish

Average intakes of oily fish remain well below the recommended one portion (140g) per week in all age groups, and there is no evidence that this has changed over time. The average adult (19-64) gets just 8g/day (around 56g a week).

Vitamins and minerals

There are still several vitamins and minerals people are generally not getting enough of in their diet. Vitamin D status was low across all age groups, but notably over a quarter of 11- to 18-year-olds were deficient.

Over 90% of women of childbearing age had a red blood cell folate concentration below the threshold, indicating elevated risk of neural tube defects. The data suggests folate status is lower compared with a decade ago, although the differences have not been statistically tested.

Over half (54%) of teenage girls and 27% of adult women (19-64 years) had inadequate iron.


New insights

There have been a few changes to the NDNS. Firstly, to get a better picture of our ageing society, data for the older adult population (65+ years) is now further split into ‘older adults’ (65-74 years) and the ‘older old’ (75 year and over).

The measurement of sugar no longer includes sugars from stewed, dried or canned fruit (or, to put it more technically, non-milk extrinsic sugars have been replaced with the reporting of intakes of free sugars).

For the first time, the survey presents fibre intakes as measured by the AOAC method of analysis, bringing the UK in line with the US and Europe. This method is also the one used to calculate the fibre content of foods for nutrition labelling.

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