The latest official health instruction from the Government

Article by The Drummond Team

Typically, most people get health advice from their doctor, not a government minister. But government officials are starting to dish out increasing amounts of advice on how we should live our lives, setting recommendations on everything from exercise to diet, alcohol and vitamin supplements. Just recently, GPs were scolded  by Public Health England (PHE), who accused them of failing to give patients basic advice to do more exercise.

With Britain allegedly headed towards an obesity crisis, you might see this advice as a timely intervention. Or you might see it as a clear-cut case of over-reach from a nannying government.

However you view it, it’s certainly difficult to keep on top of the litany of official advice, which is often mocked for changing drastically from one year to the next. Do you follow the government’s health advice – all of it, all the time? Do you even know what it is? And in a country of 65 million different body shapes, metabolisms, and daytime routines, how useful is the advice anyway?


According to PHE, adults (aged 19 to 64) should aim for at least 150 minutes of “moderate intensity” exercise each week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. To translate from doctor-speak, “moderate intensity is exercise that gets your heart-rate up to 50 or 60 percent higher than usual. Depending on your size and fitness level, this might include walking two miles in 30 minutes, or swimming laps for 20 minutes.

The government also recommends a “muscle-strengthening” activity, such as weight-lifting, yoga, or carrying heavy shopping, at least twice a week. Finally, they warn against sitting down for extended periods of time. 


The government’s advice on healthy eating is a little more complicated. We’re told to make fruit and vegetables one-third of everything we eat, aiming for five portions each day. So far, so simple.

We’re also told to make starchy carbohydrates another third of our diet. These include potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta. Higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties are preferable. It might be a good idea, we’re told, to start our day with a wholegrain breakfast cereal, before having a sandwich for lunch and rounding off the day with potatoes, pasta, or rice as a base for our evening meal.

We should aim for a moderate amount of milk and dairy food, opting for low fat and low sugar products where possible (PHE are particular fans of 1 percent fat milk, which they say has half the fat of semi-skimmed milk “without a noticeable change in taste or texture”).

We should also aim for at least two portions (2 x 140g) of fish each week, including one portion of oily fish. Beans, peas, and lentils are great alternatives to meat, they say, because they’re naturally low in fat but high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.


Of all the government’s health proclamations, it’s probably those on alcohol that cause the most confusion. It seems to change from month to month: should we all be teetotal, or is the occasional glass of wine actually better for us?

Until 2016, PHE recommended dramatically different alcohol levels for men and women. Women, they said, should have no more than 14 units each week, whilst men were allowed up to 21 units.

But, to the chagrin of men nationwide, this didn’t last forever, and in 2016 the men’s recommendation was reduced to match the women’s, at 14 units per week. If we reach this upper limit, it’s best to spread it out evenly over three or more days, they say, and we should have several alcohol-free days each week. One pint of beer contains about 2.3 units of alcohol, and one 125ml glass of wine contains about 1.5 units.


By far the most obscure parts of government health advice are its views on vitamin supplements. Many are shocked to learn that, according to PHE, all adults should be taking vitamin supplements every day for half of the year.

Between the months of October and March, everybody above the age of five is advised to take a 10mcg supplement of Vitamin D – the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – every day, to make up for the winter’s lack of sunlight. Whilst most people can stop taking the supplements in March, PHE warns frail or housebound individuals to continue taking them throughout the year.

So there you have it.  And if you’re falling behind in some areas,  you’re probably not alone!

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