Photo credit: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire As 14 million children and adults prepare to kick off the grassroots football season¹ and excitement is still high following this summer’s tournament,...

Photo credit: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

As 14 million children and adults prepare to kick off the grassroots football season¹ and excitement is still high following this summer’s tournament, hopes are high for the footballing future of the home nations but a new report from M&S Food today shows that changes will need to be made to grow on current success. The new report commissioned by M&S Food inspired by its Eat Well, Play Well partnerships with the home nation’s FAs, reveals a growing division between the health and fitness of our footballing heroes and the public.


While professional footballers have the ability to  run up to 14 kilometres per match over a 60-game season, public health paints a very different picture: 26% of English adults are obese and 38% are overweight². Poor nutrition is also having an impact on the development of children, British five-year-olds are up to seven centimetres shorter than children the same age across Europe³, while height differences are also notable between affluent and deprived areas of the country.


To explore the issues, new research was commissioned alongside interviews with current and former footballers, elite football nutritionists and chefs, with the aim of levelling the playing field by using the power of football to create a healthier future for UK families. The ‘M&S Eat Well, Play Well Report’ reveals that only one in five (20%) feel they have a consistently healthy relationship with food and 19% admit they lack the confidence in their knowledge to make healthy and balanced food choices.


Challenging food habits?

This lack of knowledge has contributed to unstructured eating habits, with more than a quarter of UK adults (26%) admitting they skip lunch and a fifth (22%) skipping breakfast at least once a month. Fast food is another issue – a fifth of those surveyed (20%) say their household requests a takeaway at least once a week, and nearly two in five (38%) also request other unhealthy foods in the same time period. Research shows we find it hardest to eat well in the evening, with dinner (23%) and evening snacks (18%) the most common periods in which people consume unhealthy food.


Cooking skills are also varied and are hindering the ability of some families to eat well. While the average person in the UK knows how to cook an impressive 14 meals at home, more than one in twenty (6%) say they never cook at home at all. The majority (61%) of those who do cook, make just one meal for their household per week, with over half (53%) stating their diet is influenced by others’ dietary requirements or fussy preferences. When trying to make healthy food choices, 42% check for sugar levels on food labelling, 37% check the fat content while three in 10 (31%) admit to not checking labelling at all. Almost one in three (32%) say they are seeking easier-to-understand food labelling, highlighting the confusion for consumers with current nutritional information on packs.


With the cost of living affecting us all, it’s unsurprising that more than one in four (27%) say it is too expensive to buy healthy food all the time and 15% find it difficult to find healthy food on their budgets.


Fuelling success

It’s not all bad news. Two-thirds (66%) of the nation believe they eat a healthy and balanced diet, with those from the East Midlands most likely to believe they do so (75%) compared to those from North East (54%) who believe they are the least likely. The research also revealed an appreciation and understanding of the positive impact of healthy foods and drinks on sporting performance. However, just one in five (19%) say they eat a healthy balanced meal before exercise, with that number rising to 27% for those who play football.


Those playing football are more likely to opt for a ‘cheat meal’ post-match (20%) compared to those exercising in general (9%). Interestingly, when it comes to varying portion sizes depending on how active their lifestyle is, men seem to be less flexible, with 17% changing their diet more often than once a week, compared to 22% of women.


The research also revealed that almost nine in ten (89%) believe exercise has at least some positive impact on their mental health. Eating a healthy and balanced diet seems to have a positive effect on a person’s general energy levels (43%), improves mood (35%), raises self-esteem (22%) and even increases productivity at work (16%). A better relationship with family and children was cited by one in ten (10%) whilst 8% said a healthier diet helped increase their libido. And, similarly, the majority recognise that being physically active (88%) and eating well (92%) improves their physical health.


Jermaine Jenas, former England international, broadcaster and football pundit noted: “When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was play football. I didn’t want to sit at the dinner table and somehow I survived on four bowls of cereal a day in between playing football with my friends. But as my career progressed and as football nutrition became a focus, I quickly learned how eating well was the key to playing well. There’s a real connection between plate and pitch. And it’s not just about your performance in a match, it’s about living a healthier and fulfilling life. The new report by M&S Food shows that people have the desire to eat healthier but not necessarily all the information or support to do so. Through the power of football, hopefully we can inspire the nation to make healthier choices, one meal at a time.”


The Counter


As part of its commitment to creating a healthier world for the next generation, M&S Food are pledging to help families make healthier, more affordable nutrition choices through five key steps:

  1. Supporting Those in Need: Utilising M&S stores, brands, and partnerships to promote services such as the Government Healthy Start Vouchers and Scotland’s Best Start and encourage sign-ups.  Through our partnership with the local giving platform, Neighbourly, we are continuing to help food banks to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to lower income families who struggle to afford healthy food.

  1. Education: Utilising M&S nutrition experts, partners, and football figures to educate and inspire the nation. This includes monthly takeovers by our Nutritionists on social media and creating content with football personalities to demonstrate simple healthy swaps.


  1. Outreach and Stadium Initiatives: Taking healthy messages and snacks directly to grassroots clubs, schools, and stores via the M&S Eat Well truck. The company also collaborated with Wembley stadium toopen two Foodhalls on Level 2 to offer fans more choices when attending games and concerts.


  1. Expanding the Eat Well Range: Making healthy and delicious choices widely accessible, aiming for 70% of sales from healthier products by 2025. M&S is also increasing the number of new Eat Well products in its 1,800+ range.


  1. Staying Ahead: Continuing M&S’ commitment to consumer concerns by focusing on additives, animal welfare, and worker conditions. The company pledges to remain at the forefront of these efforts, sourcing cleaner and healthier ingredients while maintaining high animal welfare standards.

Sophia Linn, M&S Eat Well Nutritionist and co-author of the report, added: “Families face so many challenges today when it comes to making healthy choices – busy schedules, convenience foods, and conflicting information can make it difficult to prioritise nutrition.


We recognise there is a need for everyone to have the knowledge to consume a nutrient-rich diet which helps us to thrive and perform at our best whether we are heading to school, to work or on the pitch. We’re here to help families get the nutrients they need through our campaign, where we have hints and tips perfect for every day which includes food from our Eat Well range in store – making it easier to spot while out shopping. All you have to do is follow the flower on pack for healthier choices.”

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