10 issues that we need to fix for a healthier food industry

24 September 2020, 06:00 AM
  • A new report by The Food Foundation reveals some startling statistics on vital issues surrounding healthy food options and prices
10 issues that we need to fix for a healthier food industry

Published as part of England footballer Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign and formation of a Child Food Poverty Task Force, The Broken Plate report by The Food Foundation examines how 10 different areas in the food industry have changed since 2017, all while revealing some ways in which the current food environment, system and drivers of food choice are detrimentally affecting the public’s health and the environment as a whole.

1. Low wages
The report shows a slow but steady improvement in wages for those working in the food industry over the past couple of years, with the percentage of low paid workers dropping from 46% in 2017 to 39% in 2019. However, it also highlights how 16% of workers in the food sector only earn the minimum wage, compared to 7% of all workers across the UK. The Co-Op and Nestlé are two major food businesses which have committed to paying staff the Real Living Wage, and as time goes on, hopefully more will join their ranks.

2. Advertising of unhealthy foods
There unfortunately hasn’t been much significant change in food advertising, with the amount spent on fruit and vegetables remaining at a low 2.9% of the total ad spend. Instead, the report shows an increase in advertising for soft drinks, rising from 11.1% in 2017 to 14% in 2019. This is likely driven by a rise in low sugar and sugar-free drinks, as a result of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.

3. Availability of fast food
The report found that 45 local authorities in England have seen more than a 5% increase in the proportion of food outlets that are fast food takeaways, as well as revealing a strong correlation between the percentage of takeaway outlets and levels of deprivation in local authorities. Blackburn with Darwen, in particular, has been proven to have the highest percentage (39%) of outlets that were fast food takeaways for the second year running.

4. Products with too much sugar
On a more positive note, the proportion of children’s cereals with high sugar content has decreased by 12% between 2019 and 2020, and will hopefully continue this trend.

5. Products with too little veg
Likewise, there has been an improvement to this area of the food industry, with 24% of ready-made meals in 2020 being vegetarian or plant-based, marking a 33% increase since 2018. However, these healthier plant-based meals are often more expensive than meat, fish or dairy alternatives, making them less desirable and more difficult to obtain.

6. Pricing discrepancy
The report demonstrates a continuing divergence between the cost of healthy and unhealthy foods, with the average cost of more healthy foods in 2019 being £7.68 (per 1000 kilocalories) compared to £2.48 for less healthy food. This means that healthy foods are approximately three times as expensive as less healthy food per kilocalorie.

7. Difficulty to afford a healthy diet
Due to this, lower-income families struggle to afford a balanced and nutritious diet. The poorest 20% of UK households would need to spend 39% of their disposable income in order to afford a healthy diet in line with the government’s recommended Eatwell Guide.

8. Decreased child growth
As a result, children in deprived communities are more than 1cm shorter on average than children in wealthy communities by the time they reach age 11.

9. Children with obesity
Likewise, there has been little progress with childhood obesity, as there are two times as many obese children aged 4-5 in the most deprived areas of the UK compared to the least deprived. These disparities are only growing in England and Scotland, however Wales appears to be reversing this trend. 

10. People with diabetes
The number of people afflicted with diabetes continues to grow, with diabetes-related amputations increasing by 18% in the last four years.

Weighing up all of these facts, the report estimates the likely health outcomes for children born in 2020, finding that over half of the children will experience diet-related disease which will affect their quality of life by the time they reach 65 years of age.

It’s time to act
“Leaving citizens to swim against the tide of a system which favours unhealthy eating is no longer an option,” says Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation. “Change is possible, and we have seen improvements in three of our ten metrics, but it requires government and businesses to act much faster.” Simon Billing, Executive Director of Eating Better agrees: “There have been some changes since 2019 in the food developed by retailers and manufacturers based on changing consumer demand, but more fundamental changes are needed.”

The report urges both the government and food-based businesses to learn from these warning signs and help secure nutritious food for all, especially the most vulnerable communities. Read the full report for free here, and make sure to check out the National Food Strategy too – it’s the first major review of the UK food system in nearly 75 years. While part one addresses the questions raised by COVID-19 and Brexit, part two – which will be published in 2021 – will look more in-depth into how the UK can create a food system that restores public health and the environment.

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