29 May 2021 Blog: Tackling the UK’s low fibre intake – how can retailers play a part?
This Digestive Health Day (29th May 2021), Project Support Officer Chloé Higham-Smith explores the UK’s low fibre intake and what supermarkets and food manufactures can do to encourage consumers to increase their consumption.
What is dietary fibre and why is it so important?
Dietary fibre, defined as the edible parts of plants resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine, is found in plant foods such as beans, lentils, fruits, grains, nuts and vegetables . Fibre is known for keeping the digestive system healthy – but it does plenty more, including lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer and high blood pressure . A typical fibre-rich diet is high in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables and lower in fat. This keeps us fuller for longer and can help to maintain a healthy body weight and prevent obesity through decreased food consumption [3,4].
The UK’s low fibre intake
In all age groups across the UK, average intake of fibre is below government recommendations. Adults are recommended to consume 30g of fibre a day , yet are only consuming around 18g per day and worryingly, only 4% of children aged 11-18 years are currently meeting fibre recommendations . In the UK, low fibre intake is thought to be the result of the nation’s notoriously low intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as a lack of knowledge about where to find fibre and how important it is for our health. In 2018, only 28% of adults were eating the recommended portion of fruits and vegetables and young people aged 16-24 years were less likely than other adults to get their five-a-day . As such, the UK’s main source of dietary fibre are cereals and other grains, followed by vegetables and potatoes .
What can supermarkets and food manufacturers do to help?
Manufacturers and retailers have a role to play in supporting the population to consume more fibre; with the current environment steering us towards lower-fibre options through the relentless marketing and promotion of less healthy food and drink options.
In terms of food manufacturers, in 2019, Kellogg’s ‘Happy Guts’ campaign saw All Bran, Fruit & Fibre and Bran Flakes rebranded for younger, health conscious shoppers as research found 42% of UK cereal consumers are looking for high fibre when choosing their breakfast cereal . Kellogg’s All Bran contains 11g of fibre per 40g serving, 3g more compared to Weetabix Crunchy Bran  and more than double the amount compared to Asda’s Bran Flakes (4.8/30g) .
Kellogg’s Happy Gut survey also revealed 92% of the UK population were not aware of how much fibre they should be consuming daily to meet healthy eating guidelines, with only 1 in 10 people aware they should be aiming to consume at least 30g a day . We know that cereal products are the largest source of dietary fibre for the majority of the UK population; so is therefore a perfect food group to target in terms of increasing fibre – the benefits at a population level will be huge! Other cereal retailers should follow suit in promoting their fibre-rich products – or consider reformulating some of their existing product ranges to contain more fibre. Kellogg’s have recently made a similar move in reformulating some of their most sugary cereals by pledging to cut at least 10% sugars and 20% salt from cereals intended for children . Could a similar approach be taken for fibre, instead pledging to boost fibre in their product ranges?
Furthermore, what can supermarkets do to help us as a population to eat more fibre? Research from Obesity Health Alliance found that 62% of people agree that supermarkets have a key role to play in encouraging healthy eating . We know that supermarkets play a role in influencing the foods we choose to buy and eat, with foods placed in prominent locations such as shop entrances, end of aisles and at the checkout purchased in higher volumes compared to foods not subject to such promotions. Foods subject to promotions are usually less healthy, as recognised by the Government in a recent consultation on price and location-based food promotions. This consultation resulted in new legislation restricting the promotion of high fat, sugar and/or salt foods from April 2022 . Whilst this is good news and will go some way to remove cues to consume less healthy foods, more could be done to encourage shoppers to choose fibre-rich foods. This could be done through a range of different ways, from front of pack labelling (i.e. high in fibre) to labelling on supermarket aisles (i.e. high fibre aisle/display), or simply promoting healthier and fibre-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrain varieties of rice and pasta and more through price and location promotions. HopeHopefully through the new promotions legislation which will come into action next year, some of this will start to happen.
As a nation, it is clear we need to incorporate more fibre into our diets in order to reap the benefits of good digestive health, prevent obesity, maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease. Covid-19 has shone a light on the complications associated with obesity and other non-communicable diseases and the urgent need to eat a healthy, fibre-rich diet to maintain a healthy weight and healthy immune system. However, the onus should not solely be placed on the individual – food manufactures and supermarkets all have their part to play in encouraging consumers to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
 The Association of UK Dietitians (2019) Fibre: Food Fact Sheet [online] Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fibre.html
 Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A. F., & Weickert, M. O. (2020). The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients, 12(10), 3209.
 Requena, M. C., Aguilar-González, C. N., Barragán, L. A. P., das Graças Carneiro-da Cunha, M., Correia, M. T., Esquivel, J. C. C., & Herrera, R. R. (2016). Dietary fiber: An ingredient against obesity. Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture, 522-530.
 Sarker, M., & Rahman, M. (2017). Dietary fiber and obesity management–a review. Adv Obes Weight Manag Control, 7(3), 00199.
 SACN (2015) Carbohydrates and Health. Public Health England.
 Public Health England (2019) National Diet and Nutrition Survey [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/943114/NDNS_UK_Y9-11_report.pdf
 Health Survey for England (2018) http://healthsurvey.hscic.gov.uk/data-visualisation/data-visualisation/explore-the-trends/fruit-vegetables.aspx
 British Nutrition Foundation (2018) Dietary fibre [online] Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/dietary-fibre.html#:~:text=In%20the%20UK%20most%20people%20do%20not%20eat,and%20some%20gut%20diseases%20such%20as%20bowel%20cancer
 Kellogg’s (2019) Generation Gut [online] Available at: https://www.kelloggs.co.uk/en_GB/press-release/generation-gut.html#:~:text=The%20research%2C%20conducted%20by%20Kellogg%E2%80%99s%20as%20part%20of,risk%20of%20developing%20heart%20disease%2C%20stroke%20and%20diabetes.
 Wheetabix Crunchy Bran https://www.weetabixfoodcompany.co.uk/our-brands/crunchy-bran
 Asda Bran Flakes https://groceries.asda.com/product/bran-flakes-fruit-n-fibre/asda-bran-flakes-cereal/1000001955048?cmpid=ppc-_-ghs-_–_-bing-_–_-dskwid-s92700044654060331_dc&cwc=ppc-pla&cwd=ghs&cwf=pm&ds_kid=92700044654060331&gclid=55a662de863c12b4f396027d2a1b1bcc&gclsrc=3p.ds&ds_rl=1254319&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Bing%20PLA%20-%20Brand%20-%20All%20Products&utm_term=4578572603220713&utm_content=All%20Products
 Food Navigator (2021) Kellogg’s cuts sugar and salt across Europe and UK [online] Available at: https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2021/05/17/Kellogg-cuts-sugar-and-salt-across-Europe-and-UK-The-process-is-trial-and-error
Obesity Health Alliance (2020) The role of supermarkets in helping us to be healthy [online] Available at: http://obesityhealthalliance.org.uk/2020/05/06/the-role-of-supermarkets-in-helping-us-be-healthy/
 Department of Health and Social Care (2020) Restricting promotions of products high in fat, sugar and salt by location and price [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/restricting-promotions-of-food-and-drink-that-is-high-in-fat-sugar-and-salt/outcome/restricting-promotions-of-products-high-in-fat-sugar-and-salt-by-location-and-by-price-government-response-to-public-consultation