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Has Scotland’s love affair with chips gone off the boil?

Posted on 26 November 2015 .
Tags: Scottish Health Survey, diet and nutrition

As a nation, it sometimes seems that we’ll eat anything as long as we can serve it with chips, with many not just enjoying the traditional fish or sausage supper but finding that even pakoras, haggis or curries are preferred with a sizeable helping of chips on the side. But does actual data support the claim we’re a nation of chip lovers and what types of people eat them most?

One of the sources of data to help answer these questions is the Scottish Government’s Scottish Health Survey. As well as providing data on prevalence of certain conditions, physical activity and other issues, this comprehensive survey of the Scottish population run by ScotCen also looks at what people are eating.

So, what proportion of the adult population in Scotland eats chips at least twice a week? Our most recent data shows that just under a third (31%) of Scottish adults do this, with roughly similar proportions saying they eat cake at least twice a week (34%). In comparison, just one in five (20%) meet the five-a-day recommendations.

When we look into the data in more detail, we see that men are considerably more likely to tuck into a plate of chips than women. Exactly a quarter of women (25%) had chips more than once a week compared to well over a third of men (37%), a much bigger difference than for other foods that are high in fat or sugar like biscuits, non-diet soft drinks and ice cream. For cakes, crisps, sweets and chocolate there was no discernible difference at all in consumption between men and women.

Chips By Gender

Looking at the data by age group showed that almost half (45%) of all 16-24s ate chips twice a week, with this being particularly true for males, with over half (54%) of young men eating chips that often. Although older people ate chips less frequently than those aged 16-24 there was no age group where less than a fifth did not eat chips more than once a week.  

In some analysis undertaken by ScotCen we had a look to see whether chip consumption is higher in less deprived areas than more deprived ones. This analysis is not as straightforward as it may sound. Knowing that young people tend to eat chips more often means we need to make sure that each set of deprived areas is similar in terms of age so we can be sure that any differences are due to the levels of deprivation rather than the age of people who live there.

When we analysed our results they showed that adults in the most deprived areas were about twice as likely to eat chips than those in the least deprived areas (with a similar pattern being shown when we looked at household income instead of deprivation). However, even in the least deprived areas we found that about a fifth of adults (22%) were eating chips at least twice a week.

Chips By Deprivation

So, are there any signs that the nation’s love affair with the chip is ending?

While it is difficult to hypothesise about future events with any certainty the Scottish Health Survey shows that the proportion of adults eating chips has not really changed since 2008. Moreover, there have also been no signs of decline in consumption of other foods high in fat and/or sugar such as biscuits, sweets/chocolate or cakes. Given the clear links between eating fatty or sugary food and various health conditions such as obesity and diabetes this is a matter of considerable importance for our nation as a whole.

This blog was first published by The Scotsman.

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