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Young and old differ over healthy diet

Balanced diet: eating habits among young Swiss are getting worse Keystone

Older people in Switzerland are eating more healthily, but young people are not, according to a report released on Thursday by the Federal Statistics Office.

This content was published on March 2, 2006 - 16:40

"Eating Habits in Switzerland" – the third such survey – also reveals that one in three of the population doesn't think about health at all when it comes to food.

Roland Calmonte, from the statistics office health section, isn't surprised. "We could already see in 1992 and in 1997 basic trends in this direction and these have now just continued," he told swissinfo.

In general, the consumption of meat – especially red meat – has gone down, whereas fish has gone up, and almost half the country consumes some sort of dairy product every day, although milk itself is less popular, especially among the young.

As for vegetarianism, 88 per cent of Swiss consume meat, fish and dairy products. Only around 3,000 Swiss describe themselves as vegans, staying clear of any food product that has come from an animal.

Health awareness

The survey, which was conducted in 2002, found that 69 per cent of Swiss admitted to watching what they ate – practically no change since 1992.

Of those, women were more health-conscious than men and older people more so than the young.

Factors that were said to contribute to not watching what one ate included high costs (18 per cent of respondents), constraints of the daily routine (17 per cent), love of good food (16 per cent) and the time taken up by shopping and cooking (12 per cent).

The consumption of fast food featured heavily in the survey. Men are more likely to eat fast food than women – especially if they live alone.

In all, 54 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds said they ate fast food at least once a week and only 40 per cent of those admitted to eating fruit and vegetables every day.

The figures come amid mounting concerns over childhood obesity in Switzerland, where one in four children is overweight, three times more than 20 years ago.

Regular patronage of fast-foot joints was lowest in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and higher in cities than in the country. Calmonte put this down to "cultural differences".

The growth of fast food restaurants is seen as a result of changes in lifestyles: family dynamics have changed, working days are longer and lunch breaks are shorter.

Coming soon

As for the future, Calmonte said predicting trends for everyday eating habits is difficult "but the industry will no doubt swamp us over the next ten years with new ideas for healthy eating".

He said a trend towards eating more fresh vegetables, salad and fruit would be "desirable", but he believed things are more likely to go in the direction of designer foods – food which has been specifically formulated to provide distinct benefits, many of which are related to health and nutrition.

"People are more responsive to that – it's modern and fashionable – and they will have loads of advertising thrown at them," he said.

"Another important trend that shouldn't be forgotten is genetically modified (GM) foods, which face strong resistance in Switzerland but which ultimately could be hard to dismiss."

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

In brief

2.2 million people are overweight in Switzerland. They cost the country around SFr2.7 billion ($2 billion) a year.

One in four children is overweight, three times more than 20 years ago. In 10 years the percentage of overweight adults grew from 30% to 37%.

Excessive weight can lead to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and orthopaedic complications.

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Key facts

A report by the Federal Statistics Office, "Eating Habits in Switzerland", questioned 19,700 people across the country.
The survey, which took place in 2002, follows similar surveys in 1992 and 1997.

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