Children ate a better diet in the postwar austerity years of the 1950s than they do today, according to research from the Medical Research Council.

The study, which compares two national samples of four-year-old children, found that the standard diet in the 1950s contained more bread, vegetables and milk and less sugar than is common today. The higher carbohydrate and fibre content fits current guidance on healthy eating.

In the 1950s tea was the most common drink for four-year-olds, while soft drinks were scarce.

Figures for this decade show 90 per cent of four-year-olds drink soft drinks, leading to higher sugar levels and lower levels of calcium.

MRC survey director Professor Michael Wadsworth said the higher calcium and vegetable intake would protect bones and help prevent heart disease and cancer in later life.

Food and nutrient intake of a national sample of four-year-old children in 1950: comparison with the 1990s. Public Health Nutrition. December. Volume 2. Issue 4.