Consumption of high levels of junk food and poor quality convenience meals are making diets worse than during war-time rationing and leading to rising cases of scurvy and rickets, health professionals have warned.
Specialist dietician Sioned Quirke said that the reliance on fast food was leading to poor nutrition and a lack of essential vitamins which were causing a rise in conditions last commonly seen during the early 20th century.
Ms Quirke, who is based in the Rhondda Valley, said: “Definitely for some population groups, diet has reverted back to being as poor, certainly when it comes to nutrition, as it was 100 years ago.
“If you think about a typical family 100 years ago in Wales, then they would have had very poor diets in minerals and nutrition as fruit and vegetables were not readily available and if they were, it was not very affordable. They would only be able to have the cheaper cuts of meat, but convenience foods also use poor quality meat.
“The difference between now and then is that this is out of choice. People say that fruit and vegetables are not affordable, when in fact they are.
“We are starting to see increasing numbers of childhood diseases, which we had thought had gone, making a return.
“Rickets and scurvy are coming back. When I was training 10 years ago we were told about these as past conditions and thought we would not come across it, but we’re now seeing more cases.
“These conditions are long-term. If the bones are affected by vitamin deficiency then they are affected for life. If that does not improve people’s quality of food, I don’t know what will.
“It’s not about saying people cannot have these foods, it’s just about asking people to look at how frequently they have them and if they are having them on a regular basis, then that’s too much.”
The recently published Welsh Health Survey found that 59% of adults are classed as overweight or obese alongside 34% of children. It also found just 33% of adults reported eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables the previous day.
Dr Mark Temple, co-chair of the British Medical Association’s public health medicine committee, said that it was a “great tragedy” that current food standards were worse than they were during rationing.
His comments come after the BMA voted in support of calling for a ban on junk food and sugary drinks being sold in hospitals in a bid to tackle the obesity epidemic.
Dr Temple, a public health consultant in Cardiff, said: “We all know what ‘junk’ food means. It’s a great tragedy that the food standards in the UK are worse now that they were during the rationing during the war. That’s a strong indictment on the food industry.
“Obesity is a major health threat and we ought to be doing something about it. If you’re in the game of saving lives then I think it’s right to take action.”
But Caerphilly-based nutritionist for health organisation The Health Cloud, Craig Elding, said: “I don’t think things are as bad as the war. Modern diets are pretty bad and there are certainly more pesticides and additives in our food but there is also a lot more awareness in regard to nutrition. Things like fruit and vegetables are a lot easier to access and we can buy them all year round now.
“However, we do need people to choose to eat these healthy foods and convenience is a big problem. Many people would rather use a microwave than cook something from scratch.”
A number of schemes, such as Change4Life and MEND, have been launched by the Welsh Government in a bid to improve diet and tackle the obesity epidemic in Wales.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said that many factors were contributing to poor nutrition in families in Wales and work was underway to provide support.
She said: “Falling incomes and rising food prices are affecting families across Wales and may be contributing to their ability to access healthy balanced diets.
“Purchases of fruit and vegetables are generally on a downward trend, and the fall has been much steeper for households on the lowest incomes. To improve access to, and consumption of, fruit and vegetables, we fund over 320 food co-operatives across Wales selling fresh food at low prices.
“We are also working to increase the uptake of our Healthy Start free vitamins for pregnant women, new mums and young children on low incomes.”