We focus on four complex health issues more prevalent in urban areas
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Children's health and food
The Government has published two strategies around obesity and food. With this opportunity to make a real impact on levels of childhood obesity, Programme Director Sarah Hickey argues that the Government can go even further.
We all deserve access to the things we need to be healthy – including nutritious food.
This week the government published both its new obesity strategy and Part One of the National Food Strategy. The obesity strategy commits to some really important building blocks to improving our health. In turn, the Food Strategy emphasises that these are vital components of a much bigger set of actions required to improve food systems.
We are pleased to see the obesity strategy recognising that maintaining a healthy diet is difficult. We are faced with endless prompts to eat in our everyday lives.
We would emphasise this point even further. Food environments are the biggest factor influencing obesity levels across the UK population and subsequently one of the biggest factors influencing our resilience in the face of unexpected health challenges like COVID-19.
The obesity strategy highlights that navigating our unhealthy food spaces is especially difficult when busy or stressed. Facing poverty and structural inequity brings huge stressors and demands on time and headspace.
That’s before we consider the significant financial barriers to accessing nutritious food. And because food budgets can be flexed, diet is often the first thing to suffer. Lower-income areas – especially in urban spaces – are flooded with unhealthy options with far fewer healthy alternatives. As a result, where children grow up is a big predictor of their chances of becoming overweight or obese.
The Government’s commitment to regulation around High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) product advertising is a world-leading and important step to moving unhealthy food options out of the spotlight.
And limiting in-store promotions of unhealthy products will also help stem the tide of junk food coming at families. These are necessary steps to improving our food environments. We look forward to these commitments coming into force.
Part One of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy emphasises that there is a lot we can do as a society to build on these landmark policy measures. That includes the government going further still and looking at how it can use all the fiscal and regulatory levers at its disposal to create a food system where healthy diets are the easiest option.
The Food Strategy recommends that in the immediate term policymakers build on existing government mechanisms by:
They would be impactful, practical and urgently needed next steps for policy.
At the launch of the Food Strategy, Henry highlighted that COVID-19 has created a collective sense of purpose. Both the government and industry united to improve the food system for our children.
We enthusiastically agree that the issue of obesity is too big and too complex for one sector to tackle alone. Step change impact means:
Our place-based work on childhood obesity is about getting started and keeping going. From our perspective, we can see growing and vocal societal demand for change – from commercial players as well as citizens.
Together with the government’s new announcements, this creates a momentum that has the potential to radically improve children’s health. To achieve this potential, we need to take continued, collective, practical action to achieve step-change impact around food, health and inequality.
We're partnering and collaborating with food retailers and manufacturers to improve local food retail environments.
The evidence we've gathered on childhood obesity, alongside others from the sector, is supporting changes in policy.
Assessing the progress of the innovative collaboration that aims to drive behavioural change and positively impact consumer health.
Our report argues that framing obesity as an issue of individual willpower overlooks the evidence on how environments influence people’s decision-making.