Excess sugar and salt consumption a growing concern in Korea, food security study finds

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers warned 68% of sugar consumed by Korean adolescents is from processed foods like carbonated beverages, fruit drinks, confectionery and sweets. ©GettyImages
Researchers warned 68% of sugar consumed by Korean adolescents is from processed foods like carbonated beverages, fruit drinks, confectionery and sweets. ©GettyImages

Related tags Food security

One-in-ten middle school children and almost one-in-five in high school in South Korea come from households deemed to be food insecure, a new report has revealed.

Despite this, there appears to be little difference in the quality of the diets among food secure and insecure pupils, with both groups displaying low vitamin, fresh produce and dairy intake.

Food insecurity in South Korea was previously reported to be below 10%. But using data from a newer 18-item questionnaire, the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) found that it was 11.3% in 2012.

More households with children were found to be food insecure (13.2%) compared to those without children (10.3%).

The findings further showed insufficient nutrient intakes of protein, fat, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium among food insecure children aged five to 18 years, in comparison to their food secure classmates.

Nutrient intake among high school adolescents was generally similar regardless of food security. Both food secure and insecure adolescents showed insufficient intake of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and calcium, and excessive sodium intake. They also had low intake of energy, carbohydrate, and sugar.

Middle school and high school adolescents also had low intakes of fruit and dairy.

Except for breakfast-skipping among middle school adolescents, the study did not find significant differences between food secure and insecure groups.

Dangerous consumption patterns

The results show that more than 70% of adolescents consumed excess sodium compared with South Korea’s national intake goal, regardless of age and food security status.

“Excessive intake of sodium continues to be a serious challenge in the South Korean diet,” ​they said.

They recommended that existing intervention programmes for reducing sodium intake should be strengthened and evaluated to improve effectiveness, especially for adolescents. They also suggested that special considerations should be made for individuals from food insecure households to access these programmes.

In terms of sugar, the percentages of adolescents meeting the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDRs) for intake were below 50% among middle school and high school adolescents, regardless of food security.

The researchers warned: “68% of total sugar consumed by Korean adolescents is from processed foods such as carbonated beverages, fruit and vegetable drinks, sugar, confectionery, and candies, which are low-nutrient dense and are more likely to have free sugar and added sugar.”

As such, they suggested stricter diet recommendations for adolescents, flagging free sugar and added sugar in food products.

South Korea’s strengths

The researchers suggested levels of child food insecurity could be higher were it not for existing policies and parents compromising their own diets to benefit their offspring.

For example, South Korea currently provides school-going children with a free lunch. As of 2016, 70.5% of students were supported by the programme.

This study by the Seoul National University assessed 1,453 adolescents.


Source: Nutrition Research and Practice, 2017


“Dietary intakes of adolescents from food insecure households: analysis of data from the 6th (2013-2015) Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey”

Authors: Mariam Nakitto, Kana Asano, Injoo Choi and Jihyun Yoo

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