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A quarter of UK secondary school children have no breakfast

New research from the British Nutrition Foundation kicks off Healthy Eating Week 2015

Posted by Stephanie Broad | June 01, 2015 | Catering & hospitality

One in four secondary school children say they start the day without breakfast, and over two thirds (65%) of children aged from 5-16 are not drinking enough, according to research conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) among over 8,800 UK school children.

The survey was conducted as part of BNF’s Healthy Eating Week 2015, launched today by HRH The Princess Royal. Over 7,400 nursery, primary and secondary schools across the UK are participating in the week, during which a quarter* (2.5 million) of all UK school aged children will learn valuable lessons about healthy eating, cooking, food provenance and physical activity.


On the day of the survey, 24% of secondary school children and 14% of their teachers did not have breakfast, despite widespread knowledge of the importance of breakfast. 12% of secondary school children admit to eating breakfast only when they feel like it.  

Encouragingly, breakfast appears to play a larger role in primary school children’s diets, with 92% of five to eleven year olds having breakfast every day (although a quarter said that they did not have a drink).

Roy Ballam, Education Programme Manager at BNF said: “This research provides a valuable annual barometer of the knowledge and behaviour of children and their teachers in relation to food, healthy eating and lifestyle.  

“Children need enough food and water to enable them to play an active part in school life and achieve their potential, and these results show that many young people are potentially unable to perform to the best of their ability, or take an active part in school life.“

Drinking plenty

Sixty-six per cent of primary school children and 65% of secondary school pupils told BNF that they are consuming fewer than six drinks each day; six to eight drinks being the recommended daily amount.  An alarming third of all children, and nearly half (48%) of their teachers, said they are consuming less than half of the recommended number of drinks**, which can cause lack of concentration, headaches and tiredness.

In the survey 46% of teachers said that the drinks they have the most of are tea and coffee. Among 12-16 year olds, 41% said they have water the most, with 10% claiming they consume more tea and coffee than any other drinks.

Just six per cent of secondary children consume soft drinks the most – contrasting with data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS)***, which shows that 27% (by volume) of the drinks consumed by children aged 11-18 years are sugar-sweetened soft drinks. 

Ballam continued: “With continued concerns about sugars intakes in older children in particular, we need to ensure that young people make healthy choices when it comes to drinks. The ‘drink plenty’ challenge within Healthy Eating Week underlines this, encouraging participants to go for water, fruit juice or milk-based drinks instead of sugar-sweetened drinks****”.

Healthy Eating Week Challenges

To stimulate improvements in diet and lifestyle habits, BNF’s Healthy Eating Week sets participating schools a series of five challenges: have breakfast, have five-a-day, drink plenty, try something new, and get active.  

Ballam concluded: “Healthy Eating Week will challenge children and their teachers to achieve a number of targets each day of the week and it will be really interesting to see how they get on!

“Schools play a vital role in educating children about all aspects of food, nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle.  BNF’s Healthy Eating Week has become an important event in the school calendar and the free school resources we provide are gratefully received as stimulus materials in the classroom.  We hope that they will help all involved to improve their knowledge and behaviour and that this improvement will be evident in next year’s Healthy Eating Week research.”

For more information, visit the BNF website or contact

* Based on 7,400 schools registered to participate in Healthy Eating Week, as 24% of a total of 29,785 schools in the UK [source:,,]

** Suggested consumption for children six to eight drinks a day; for adults eight to ten drinks a day, based on Dietary Reference Values for water from the European Food Safety Authority

*** The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) Rolling Programme, funded by the government, assesses the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general population in the UK.  

**** Depending on the location and type of school in the UK, food and drink standards/guidelines are in place. For example, in England, the School Food Plan guidelines specify healthier drinks, which include drinking water available at all times, lower fat milk, fruit/vegetable juice (max 150ml), combinations of juice and water or milk, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. 

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