WEARSIDERS have the worst diet in the country.
Figures reveal fewer than one in five residents in the city eat healthily – that is less than 20 per cent of over 18s.
Health experts believe it could take a “generation” to undo the mind-set that causes so many of us to pick unhealthy foods on a day-to-day basis.
Morc Coulson, a senior lecturer at Sunderland University, is an expert on health and fitness.
He says there are a myriad of reasons why we are not choosing the right foods.
“A lot of people understand they aren’t eating healthy but do it any way,” the 52-year-old said. “We can’t just blame a lack of education for the problems.
“We have a proliferation of fast-food shops and takeaways in the city.
“If you go into a sandwich shop at lunchtime and have the choice of paying £3 for a sandwich or 70p for a pasty or sausage roll, a lot are going to choose the option that costs less.
“Equally, a lot of adults just don’t know how to cook. They go home and put a meal in the microwave because they perceive it to be quicker than chopping up vegetables and making a healthy dinner.
“We need to change this mind-set but it could take a generation to undo it.”
The extent of the problem, highlighted in Public Health England’s Health Summary of Sunderland, has prompted several initiatives across the Wearside in a bid to bring the figures down.
Dieticians at Sunderland Royal Hospital run courses about preparing quick, healthy meals for families and promoting good nutrition. It is hoped the classes will also help bring down the number of obese children in the city.
Across Sunderland, 21.1 per cent of Year Six children – 10 and 11-year-olds – are fighting weight issues, well above the national average of 18.7 per cent.
Kevin McLernon, of Seaburn Dene, hit the headlines last year when he scooped the title of ITV1’S Biggest Loser in front of millions of viewers, shedding 40 per cent of his body weight, to drop from 32st 2lb to 19st 4lb.
The 39-year-old now spends his time coaching people about fitness, diet and improving their lifestyle.
He said: “People need to learn that good eating habits aren’t just short term. They need to be looked at as a lifestyle shift. Of course there are times when you don’t eat the best things, I still do it. I’m also appalled by some of these TV adverts where companies pretend their products are healthy when they are full of salt and sugar.
“People need to take responsibility for themselves; there is no truer statement than ‘you are what you eat’.”
A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland said: “Dietitians in the trust work to promote good health by teaching the public and other healthcare professionals about diet and nutrition.
“Adult weight management programmes are held throughout Sunderland and all local health agencies and partners, including the local authority, are constantly working together to promote healthier eating in conjunction with national campaigns such as Change4Life and 5-A-Day
“Dealing with obesity and the health-related problems such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, is probably the greatest challenge facing the NHS.
“Unhealthy lifestyles is the key reason for the obesity epidemic and lack of exercise and unhealthy eating are direct causes of the problems.
“These are made worse by our car and computer/TV culture which does not encourage regular physical activity, and the marketing, promotion, and cheap cost of junk food.
“All NHS staff make clear to patients the importance of healthy eating and how vital it is to buy and eat fresh food.
“As well as Government, industry and local initiatives and campaigns to constantly promote healthy eating, taking personal responsibility for one’s own lifestyle is crucial.”