Sarah Hickey, Programme Director, Guy's and St Thomas' Charity
Jul 30, 2020
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 in the face of endless prompts to eat in our everyday lives. We would emphasise this point even further – we think that 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.
Looking at this as an issue of inequality is crucial. 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. Limiting in-store promotions of unhealthy products will also help stem the tide of junk food coming at families. These are necessarily 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 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 from government and industry 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 industry using its resources and capacity for innovation to create healthier food retail spaces and products. It means investors seeing health as a long-term asset and demanding this from the companies in which they hold shares. It means shifting the school food system – through actions by policymakers, caterers and school leaders – so that universally accessible nutritious food is the main consideration.
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.
Programme Director: Sarah Hickey
30 June, 2020
Our Programme Director, Sarah Hickey, shares how we’re collaborating with the commercial sector to tackle the inequality that prevents children from accessing nutritious food.
23 April, 2020
As a funder, our priority is to support our partners and the communities most affected by COVID-19. Our Portfolio Director, Louise Mousseau, sets out the actions we've taken to date and how we're adapting our work in response to a changing environment.