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Good nutrition is about more than eating

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Healthy eating requries making choices Healthy eating requries making choices

David Kynaston's Austerity Britain 1945-51 (2007) cites a study that compared the diets of over 4000 four-year-olds in 1950, with a similar number of four-year-olds in 1992. It concluded: 'The higher amounts of bread, milk and vegetables consumed in 1950 are closer to the healthy eating guidelines of the 1990s.' Fifty years ago, little money and no choice conferred distinct health benefits on the children of austerity.

The four-year-olds of 1992 have now grown up, and many may well have embarked on careers in primary care nursing. Their inherited culture of microwaveable meals, TV dinners and junk food might inform their encounters with patients, especially the elderly.

I declare a personal interest. My father - who died aged 90, having lived at home independently - was once upset by a health visitor who suggested that if he bought a microwave it would save him a lot of time and trouble. His reply was polite but blunt. The point was that my father had a lot of time, and he enjoyed spending some of it shopping for fresh fish, meat and vegetables. This gave him exercise, as did peeling the potatoes, doing the washing up, etc. Keeping an eye on what he was cooking also kept him alert and he did not wish to pop something in a microwave because it was deemed convenient. He found the concept soul-destroying.

We know that around one quarter of hospitalised patients in the UK are undernourished. In patient's homes and the wider community nurses have a role to play in helping to ensure that the elderly are encouraged to consume nutritious food and, where safe and appropriate, to maintain independence by cooking it themselves.

This, however, depends on primary care nurses being aware of the fact that the elderly do not all necessarily share the fast-food philosophy that is prevalent in society today.

We all agree healthy eating is A Good Thing, but few eat healthily. Why not? As Otto Von Bismarck declared: 'When you say that you agree to a thing in principle, you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.'

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