RCPCH responds to “Government food strategy” policy paper

On 13 June 2022, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published an updated food strategy.

It follows the government-commissioned independent review of the food system, the “National Food Strategy” led by Henry Dimbleby and notes the key objectives are to deliver:

  • a prosperous agri-food and seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply in an unpredictable world and contributes to the levelling up agenda through good quality jobs around the country
  • a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice and access to high quality products that support healthier and home-grown diets for all
  • trade that provides export opportunities and consumer choice through imports, without compromising our regulatory standards for food, whether produced domestically or imported

As part of the report the Government has said said it wants to halve childhood obesity by 2030, reducing the healthy life expectancy (HLE) gap between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030, adding 5 years to HLE by 2035 and reducing the proportion of the population living with diet-related illnesses; and to support this, increasing the proportion of healthier food sold, and begin a “school food revolution”.

Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Improvement of the RCPCH, said:

Pre-pandemic childhood obesity was one of the biggest public health issues facing the UK, and this has only intensified as data shows rates of childhood obesity are on the rise. Obesity increases the risk of developing a range of health conditions in childhood in later life, including heart disease; stroke; high blood pressure; diabetes and some cancers.

At present, nearly one in four children in the UK are overweight by the age of five so it is positive to see DEFRA outline its ambition to reduce Childhood Obesity by half by 2030, 

A concerted effort will be needed to tackle childhood obesity. It is good to hear of plans to educate children around the importance of healthy food as part of the government’s “school food revolution”. However, we need a holistic approach to reduce childhood obesity and it is imperative that children are put in the centre of policy action, unlike earlier this month which saw the government delay the food marketing changes— a crucial step to addressing these issues — to January 2023.

This policy paper was an opportunity to grasp the challenge of obesity as part of an overhaul of our food system. Comparing the paper with the National Food Strategy led by Henry Dimbleby, we see little evidence of the practical measures that he advocated, such as taxation of sugar and salt-rich foods, and extension of eligibility for free school meals. It is no good government having ambitious targets if they are not prepared to take the actions required to meet these targets.