UK food industry is ‘barrier to healthy eating’

The way Britain produces, manufactures, sells and consumes food is a barrier to healthy eating, hitting the poorest hardest, a group of peers has said.

The committee said that people in the UK eat the most processed food in Europe.

The House of Lords Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee warned that the current Government policies, or lack of them, condemn many children to a life of ill health, cost the NHS billions, and damage the environment.

The report, Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food, published today, the committee says that the Government’s recommended healthy diet is too expensive for many families.

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It said without enough time, knowledge and money to shop for healthier food, the poorest are most at risk from a system which actively encourages highly processed, less healthy food by making it cheaper, more heavily promoted and easier to buy.

It called for urgent action is needed to ensure a healthier population, a healthier environment, to level up the most deprived communities and save the NHS billions spent treating obesity and avoidable diet-related diseases.

People in Britain consume more highly processed food than those in any other European country, and Britain has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe. Adults and children living in the most deprived areas are about twice as likely to be obese than those living in the least deprived areas, contributing to a difference in healthy life expectancy of about 20 years between the richest and poorest people in the country.

Before the coronavirus pandemic too many people did not have enough money to feed themselves or their families properly, relying on food banks to survive. In the past few months the use of food banks has shot up by a reported 81 per cent.

Lord Krebs, chair of the committee, said: “Problems of diet and ill-health have been staring us in the face for decades, but successive Governments have done precious little about it. While this affects everyone, people in poverty either can’t afford enough to eat or have unhealthy diets.

“Many of Britain’s poorest families have little or no choice. They either go without food or buy unhealthy food because that’s what they can afford and get hold of.

He added: “The Government knows about the problem. It’s time to stop the dither and delay, endless talking and consultation, and get on with it.” Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “This landmark report clearly explains the raft of actions needed to tackle our nation’s dietary inequalities which have been highlighted so starkly by the Covid pandemic.

“This report shows that millions of families can’t eat well unless they have sufficient income and an environment which makes the healthy choice the easiest. People can no longer wait for lengthy government consultations which languish in Whitehall.”

She added: “Every day that passes where the odds are stacked against families securing a healthy diet is a missed opportunity to secure a healthy future for our children.”