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Our children’s health is our country’s future - Britain needs a revolution in attitudes to food and nutrition that prioritises a healthy diet for kids


Press Release18th July 2023

  • Obesity rates now at record levels risking irreparable damage to the health of the nation.

  • School is the fundamental frontline for giving the next generation opportunities to thrive – reform must include the 800,000 children slipping through the cracks.

  • New report calls for urgent research into ultra-processed foods and greater innovation in the food system to create a healthier food environment.

Urgent action is needed to deliver a fair and healthy food system or risk the health of a generation, according to a new report published today by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI).

In the new report ‘Fit for the Future: A Fair Deal on Food for a Healthier Britain’, published on the eve of TBI’s second Future of Britain conference,policy experts Hermione Dace, Adam Bradshaw and Sehar Shaheryar argue the current approach to health and food policy is unsustainable - with consumers facing a food environment increasingly made up of expensive healthy options or unhealthy cheaper ones. They say the biggest challenge to making people healthier choices and preventing diet-related disease is political inertia, and call on the government to act to create a healthier food environment to enable people to make healthier choices.

In his foreword chef and child health campaigner Jamie Oliver writes:

“The true power of a democracy is measured by the way we treat those most at risk. We need economic growth, and to maximise that growth we simply can’t leave anyone behind. It’s a scandal that today the health of 1 in 3 children is at risk due to the food they eat.

“Free school meals for children is the 4th emergency service. If we give the 800,000 children who need one a free school meal, it will boost the economy by £8.9 billion over 20 years because well fed children thrive at school.

“We need to redesign the food system so it allows businesses AND kids to flourish.”

Measures proposed in the report include:

  • Implementing legislation to restrict marketing of products deemed to be high in fat, salt and sugar in shops, online, on TV and radio, and in sports sponsorship and the wider environment.

  • Rules for government procurement that ensure taxpayer money is spent on healthy foods within government entities such as the NHS and schools.

  • Extending eligibility for free school meals to the 800,000 children who are from Universal Credit Households and living in poverty.

  • Leveraging technological advances such as artificial intelligence (AI) – for example, government food procurement could be automated in favour of food with higher nutritional values.

  • Accelerating research into ultra-processed foods to establish a robust base of evidence that will inform government efforts to support obesity prevention and health promotion.

  • Conducting further large-scale, real-world trials for modern obesity drugs to understand effectiveness in weight reduction.

TBI Senior Analyst Hermione Dace said:

“Britain needs a fair deal between the food industry, the government and the public to prevent and treat obesity and create a generation that is fit for the future. We need a fresh approach, one that confronts nanny-state nonsense to give people real options, rebalancing the food system in favour of healthy, cost-effective choices and disincentivising profiteering from ultra-processed and junk food. New technology and cutting-edge science gives government and businesses greater opportunities to create a healthier food environment.

“For the sake of the nation’s future, politicians must act – the health of the nation and our economic growth and prosperity depend on it.”

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation said:

“We know poor diet is one of the biggest preventable risk factors for ill health. Current policies, too focused on individual behaviour change, clearly aren’t working - our diets are deteriorating, especially in low-income communities. If we are serious about creating a healthy, resilient Britain, we’ve got to stop young people being bombarded with cheap, ready-to-eat junk food. A nutritious meal needs to be the easiest option, particularly those from poorer backgrounds. This report shines a light on many well-evidenced reforms to the food system that will be effective in improving the nation's diet; from developing new fiscal policies that encourage businesses to make healthier products, to giving children access to a nutritious meal at school. Policymakers have these recommendations at their fingertips – the question is whether they will show the leadership so desperately needed to bring about change.”

Anna Garrod, Policy and Influencing Director, Impact on Urban Health said:

“We are heartened to see the Tony Blair Institute call for radical reform of a food system rigged against healthy options, and for a shift in the narrative around food and health. For too long interventions focused on obesity have failed as they focus on individuals, whilst ignoring the environment in which we all live; neighbourhoods flooded with junk food, Free School Meals not reaching many children who need them most, and rising prices making it harder than ever for families to access nutritious food. It is time to show that what surrounds us, shapes us, and create a context ripe for policy change that protects children's health. At Impact on Urban Health, we have powerful supporting evidence for narrative shift and are committed to working with the sector and beyond to achieve it.”

James Toop CEO, Bite Back said:

“Food needs a new narrative. For decades we've been telling the wrong story focused on individual responsibility. But when rates of Type 2 Diabetes are rising in children and a third are at risk of developing food related ill health in their futures, it's time to start holding the commercial entities with a powerful influence over the food we eat to account.

“There is hope. And it starts with a new conversation. Young people will be at the forefront of this.”

Over the past 70 years, obesity rates have risen to record levels in the United Kingdom (UK). Pre-packaged, convenient and ultra-processed food now make up 57 per cent of the average UK diet and the dominance of this food is making people sick. Today, nearly one-third of children aged 2 to 15 have overweight or obesity, the UK has the third-highest rate of adult obesity in Europe and obesity-related deaths have surpassed those caused by smoking.

It is estimated that the societal cost of obesity is between £29 billion and £58 billion per year, which is 1 per cent to 3 per cent of GDP. In England, research shows that areas with the highest rates of overweight and obesity also have the lowest rates of productivity. If trends continue, almost 40 per cent of the UK population will be obese by 2040.

The Health Foundation says that fewer than one in five people think the government is working effectively to improve diets, and a 2020 study by the Obesity Health Alliance found that 74 per cent of the public supports government action to address obesity.

Research by PwC for Impact on Urban Health (Oct 2022) found that expanding Free School Meals to all children in England from households receiving Universal Credit will deliver significant economic benefits - for every £1 invested, £1.38 would be returned.

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