Regulatory policy

Report finds government food policy and UK food system completely broken

By Angela Green, Content Manager, H&C News: A report reveals that the government’s food policy and the UK food system are completely broken.

32% of all food and non-alcoholic beverage ads are still invested in promoting unhealthy foods

The 2022 Broken Plate Report released yesterday by The Food Foundation reveals like never before the dangerous impact of negative national food trends and the urgent need for a major overhaul of our food system.

The report highlights the wide range of harmful effects caused by poor nutrition and the lack of a coherent food policy in the UK, leading to problems such as stunting in our children and record levels of amputations linked to complications of obesity.

The Broken Plate makes the strongest case yet for a change in the country’s food policies to give everyone in the UK access to healthy food that avoids further damage to the climate and the environment global.

His authoritative research presents a grim picture of the consequences of our broken food system:

  • According to current trends, more than 80% of children born in 2022 who will survive to age 65 will be overweight or obese. At least one in 20 of them will already have died.
  • Childhood obesity has increased by 50% in the last year alone. Obese children are more likely to develop diet-related illness. Obesity negatively affects the ability to learn in school, self-esteem, and physical and mental health.
  • Poor nutrition leads to stunted growth. British five-year-olds are smaller than the five-year-old populations of our European neighbors with significant height variation between poor and rich areas of this country.
  • Fatal amputations caused by obesity-related complications of diabetes have reached record levels, tragically affecting the quality of life of those affected and placing a heavy burden on our healthcare system and the economy in general.
  • Healthy nutritious foods are almost three times more expensive than obesogenic unhealthy products, with healthier foods costing an average of £8.51 per 1,000 calories, compared to just £3.25 per 1,000 calories of less healthy foods. Between 2021 and 2022, healthier foods have become even more expensive, increasing in price by an average of 5.1% compared to 2.5% for the least healthy foods.
  • Excess weight costs the UK around £74billion each year in direct NHS costs, lost workforce productivity and reduced life expectancy. It is a major contributor to the 20-year gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest members of society.
  • One in five households would need to spend nearly half of their disposable income on food to meet the government’s recommended healthy diet, leaving little money for energy and other household bills. In contrast, the wealthiest fifth of the population would only need to spend 11% of their disposable income.
  • Sustainable alternative milks made from ingredients such as oats and soy cost up to £1.79 a litre, compared to £1 for cow’s milk. They are 60% more expensive than dairy milk even though they generate less than a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of dairy milk on average and use just over half the water to produce.
  • Plant-based sandwiches cost an average of £3.25 compared to £3.00 for meat and £2.85 for fish.
  • About a third (32%) of all food and non-alcoholic beverage ads are still invested in promoting unhealthy foods, compared to 1% spent promoting fruits and vegetables. Another 39% is spent on brand advertising, much of which is associated with less healthy products.
  • Fast food brands gravitate to poor neighbourhoods: 31% of food brands in the most underprivileged neighborhoods are fast food establishments compared to 22% in the least underprivileged neighbourhoods. As fast food consumption is closely linked to an increased risk of obesity, it is likely that this greater availability of fast food is a contributing factor to socioeconomic health inequalities.
  • Only one in four public schools in England are known to meet school food nutrition requirements, despite calls for the government to mandate an accreditation system so that compliance with standards can be checked more regularly across all schools. Childhood is a critical period for development and suboptimal nutrition can have irreversible consequences throughout life.
  • Breakfast cereals and yogurts are foods that parents often give their children believing them to be healthy, but only 7% of breakfast cereals and 4% of yogurts marketed for children are low in sugar . Some breakfast cereals and yogurts provide nearly all of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar in a single serving: Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallows 17.0g (89% of the maximum recommended intake for a 4 to 6 years); Nestlé Smarties Yogurt Vanilla Flavor 16.5 g (87% of the maximum recommended intake for a child 4 to 6 years old).
  • Unless action is taken to halt the upward trend, emissions from the food system will be four times higher by 2050 than the level needed for the UK to reach its net zero target.

The Broken Plate report shows more clearly than ever the need for regulation to create structural change in our food system if we are to provide a healthy future for our people.

The report is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and improvements to the methodology for assessing the Affordability of Healthy Eating metric were made possible by the Fusion21 Foundation. We are also grateful for the contribution of these collaborators: Eating Better, Action on Sugar, Nielsen, Resolution Foundation, CEDAR and Feat of the University of Cambridge MRC Epidemiology Unit, Food DB of the University of Oxford , Soil Association and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Dr Max Davie, Head of Health Improvement, Royal College of Paediatrics and Institute of Child Health, said: ‘As prices continue to rise nationwide, there is an ever-widening nutritional gap between high-income and low-income families. Healthy foods are almost three times more expensive than less healthy foods per calorie. We call on the government to ensure that all members of our society, including the most vulnerable, have the means to access healthy and affordable food. We must act now to build a healthier and more sustainable future for our children.

Dr Dolly Theis MRC Epidemiology Unit & Center for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of Cambridge, said: “This major Food Foundation report shows that our food system is completely broken. Unhealthy foods are cheap, aggressively marketed, and make people sick. Although we have had nearly 700 government policies on obesity in England to date, very few have led to action. The government must stop this cycle and ensure it implements all policy proposals, including those put forward in the latest obesity strategy released in 2020.”

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