Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Food and nutrient intake of a national sample of 4-year-old children in 1950: comparison with the 1990s

CJ Prynnea1 c1, AA Paula1, GM Pricea1 p1, KC Daya1, WS Hildera2 and MEJ Wadswortha2

a1 MRC Human Nutrition Research, Downham's Lane, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 1XJ, UK

a2 MRC National Survey of Health and Development, University College and Royal Free Medical School, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK


Objective: To evaluate the food and nutrient intake of members of a birth cohort study when young children in 1950 and investigate differences from present-day children's diets.

Design: One-day recall diet records from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) (1946 Birth Cohort) at age 4 years were analysed for energy and selected nutrients and compared to the published results for 4-year-olds in the 1992/93 National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS).

Setting: England, Scotland and Wales in 1950 and 1992/93.

Subjects: 4599 children in 1950 and 493 children in 1992/93.

Results: Mean (SD) daily intakes in 1950 were energy 1445 (343) kcal, or 6.1 (1.4) MJ, protein 46 (11)g, fat 64 (20)g, starch 117 (33)g, sugar 62 (24)g, unavailable carbohydrate 13 (4)g, calcium 736 (230)mg, iron 7.7 (2.1)mg, retinol 738 (1273) μg, carotene 1049 (1130) μg and vitamin C 40 (26) mg. Compared to 1992/93, the 1950 diet contained substantially more bread and vegetables and less sugar and soft drinks, giving it a higher starch and fibre content and making it more in line with current recommendations on healthy eating. However, fat provided 40% of energy in 1950, compared to 35% in 1992/93. In 1950, red meat was an important source of iron, but by 1992 most iron came from fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin C came mainly from vegetables in 1950, but from soft drinks in 1992.

Conclusions: The relative austerity of post-war food supplies resulted in food and nutrient intakes in 1950 which in many respects may well have been beneficial to the health of young children, despite fat intake being higher than present-day recommendations.

(Received March 10 1999)

(Accepted June 16 1999)