The influential 2022 Broken Plate report, published earlier this week by The Food Foundation, reveals as never before the dangerous impact of negative trends in the nation’s diet and the urgent need for a major overhaul of our food system.
The report highlights the wide range of damaging effects caused by poor nutrition and the absence of a coherent UK food policy, leading to problems which include stunted growth in our children and record-breaking levels of amputations linked to the complications of obesity.
The Broken Plate presents the strongest arguments so far for a change in the nation’s food policies to give everyone in the UK access to a healthy diet that avoids further damage to global climate and environment.
Its authoritative research presents a bleak picture of the consequences of our broken food system.
On current trends more than 80 per cent of children born in 2022 who survive to the age of 65 will be overweight or obese.
At least one in 20 of them will already have died.
Obesity in children has risen by 50 per cent in the past year alone.
Children with obesity are more likely to grow up to have diet-related disease. Obesity adversely affects ability to learn in school, self-esteem and physical and mental health.
Poor nutrition is causing stunted growth. British five-year-olds are shorter than five-year-old populations of our European neighbours with significant height variation between poor and wealthy areas within this country.
Life-limiting amputations caused by the complications of diabetes linked to obesity have reached record levels, tragically impacting the quality of life of affected individuals and placing a huge burden on our healthcare system and the wider economy.
Healthy nutritious food is nearly three times more expensive than obesogenic unhealthy products, with more healthy foods costing an average of £8.51 for 1,000 calories compared to just £3.25 for 1,000 calories of less healthy foods.
Between 2021 and 2022 healthier foods became even more expensive, increasing in price by an average of 5.1 per cent compared with 2.5 per cent for the least healthy foods.
Excess weight costs the UK approximately £74 billion every year in direct NHS costs, lost workforce productivity and reduced life expectancy. It is one of the main factors in the 20-year gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest members of society.
One in five households would have to spend almost half their disposable income on food to achieve the Government-recommended healthy diet, leaving little money for energy and other household bills.
By contrast, the wealthiest fifth of the population would need to spend just 11 per cent of their disposable income.
Sustainable alternative milks made from ingredients such as oats and soya cost up to £1.79 per litre compared to £1 for cows’ milk.
They are 60 per cent more expensive than dairy milk even though they on average create less than a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of dairy milk and use little more than half the water to produce.
Sandwiches with plant-based fillings cost £3.25 on average compared with £3 for meat and £2.85 for fish.
About a third (32 per cent) of all food and soft drink advertising is still invested in promoting unhealthy foods compared with one per cent spent on fruit and vegetable promotion.
A further 39 per cent is spent on brand advertising, much of which is associated with less healthy products.
Fast food retailers gravitate to areas of poverty: 31 per cent of food retailers in the most deprived areas are fast food outlets compared with 22 per cent in the least deprived areas.
As fast-food consumption is closely linked with increased risk of obesity, it is likely that this higher availability of fast food is a contributing factor to socio-economic health inequalities.
Only one in four state schools in England is known to be meeting school food nutritional requirements, despite calls for the Government to mandate an accreditation scheme so that compliance with standards can be more regularly checked in all schools.
Childhood is a critical time for development and suboptimal nutrition can have irreversible lifelong implications.
Breakfast cereals and yogurts are foods that parents often give their children in the belief they are relatively healthy, but only seven per cent of breakfast cereals and four per cent of yogurts marketed for children are low in sugar.
Some breakfast cereals and yoghurts supply almost the entire recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar in one portion: Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallows 17.0g (89 per cent of a 4-6 year old’s maximum recommended intake); Nestlé Smarties Vanilla Flavour Yogurt 16.5g (87 per cent of a 4-6 year old’s maximum recommended intake).
Unless there is action 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 meet its net zero target.
The report is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and improvements to the methodology for assessing the ‘Affordability of a Healthy Diet’ metric have been made possible by the Fusion21 Foundation.
Collaborators include Eating Better, Action on Sugar, Nielsen, Resolution Foundation, CEDAR and Feat at the MRC Epidemiology Unit University of Cambridge, Food DB at the University of Oxford, Soil Association, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Anna Taylor, Executive Director at The Food Foundation, said: “This report provides the strongest evidence to date of the worsening crisis affecting our food system and the health of the UK population.
“It is vital that the incoming Prime Minister takes urgent action to address the issues raised by the National Food Strategy with the development of a new plan for primary legislation.’
Catherine Dennison, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation, said the cost of living crisis was putting additional pressure on families with low incomes who were already struggling to afford a healthy diet.
She said: “The Broken Plate provides stark evidence of how dietary inequalities in the UK are impacting on people’s health.
“We support The Food Foundation’s call for a comprehensive policy and practice response from Government and industry if we are to improve people’s health and well-being, including for the youngest children in our society.”
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