Young families have the most unhealthy diet of any household in Britain with low-quality food making up almost half their shopping basket, study suggests

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Nutritionally poor food makes up 40% of families with young children’s baskets
  • It is 32.5% for the over 60s and 35% for childless adults aged between 40 and 59
  • Analysis used data from Tesco collected between 2019 and 2021

Young families have the most unhealthy diet of any household group in Britain, research suggests.

Supermarket analysis shows that nutritionally poor food makes up 40 per cent of the shopping baskets of families with children under ten.

The figure is 32.5 per cent for over-60s, who may have fewer barriers to healthier options. Younger families, for example, may have less time to find and prepare more nutritious foods.

Health charities Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK were given anonymised shopping data from Tesco to examine the contents of our baskets and trolleys. 

The data, from 2019 to 2021, which has only recently been published, shows young families buy the most snacks, such as crisps, biscuits, chocolate and sweets. These items made up 39 per cent of the unhealthy foods they bought.

Supermarket analysis shows that nutritionally poor food makes up 40 per cent of the shopping baskets of families with children under ten

Health charities Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK were given anonymised shopping data from Tesco to examine what young families were buying

Health charities Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK were given anonymised shopping data from Tesco to examine what young families were buying

Families with children under ten made the least healthy choices of the five groups analysed. The other groups included families with children over ten and childless people aged 20 to 39, for whom the proportion of unhealthy food bought was 37.2 per cent and 36.6 per cent respectively.

The figure for childless adults aged 40 to 59 was 35 per cent.

Young, financially stretched families may be more susceptible to highly visible supermarket deals on junk food, and have less time to seek out healthy options, the researchers suggested.

A survey of more than 4,000 people, commissioned by the charities, found almost a fifth of those aged 35 to 54 were put off from trying new foods because of a lack of time and concerns their children or family would not like them.

Almost a quarter of children aged four to five in England are now estimated to be overweight or obese, based on 2019-20 figures.

In a report on the supermarket data, called Trolley Trends, the charities note that such statistics have prompted the Government to aim to halve childhood obesity by 2030 in England.

But they add that food promotions in the UK tend to be for ‘HFSS’ items – high in fat, salt and sugar. They say this ‘actively encourages us to purchase and consume higher quantities of these foods’. 

The authors write: ‘This impacts people of all ages, but, as the report suggests, families with younger children the most, who were shown to have a lower proportion of healthy items in their shopping baskets than other groups.’

Malcolm Clark of Cancer Research UK urged the Government to push ahead with restrictions on advertising and promotions of unhealthy foods, adding: ‘The world around us can heavily influence our purchasing behaviours and consumption.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘We have already taken firm action on [HFSS foods] and introduced legislation to restrict their placement in supermarkets.’ 

The spokesman added that calorie labelling has been introduced in restaurants, and from October 2025, regulations around food advertising will be brought in.

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