Obesity threatens to bankrupt the NHS

Jess Blair profiles the IWA’s new Senedd Paper ‘Good Food for All’.

Wales has been strong on rhetoric and aspiration, but weak on delivery on the sustainable food agenda, according to Professor Kevin Morgan in the IWA’s third Senedd Paper, Good Food for All.

Whereas Scotland has followed through on its ambitious food strategy Wales risks falling backwards dropping proposed nutritional standards from the Public Health Bill and withdrawing its own catering service from the Food For Life Catering Mark (through Kevin Morgan could hardly believe this and hoped he’d been misinformed).

With the projected cost of obesity projected to rise to £49.9 billion a year across the UK, Kevin Morgan, an internationally renowned expert on sustainable food, warned that “ill-health due to unhealthy diets is reckoned to be some fifty times greater than ill-health due to food-borne diseases, a finding that raises big questions about the nature of our food industry”.

Wales ranks the highest country in the UK for its levels of childhood obesity. In the Child Measurement Study conducted in 2013/14, 26% of Welsh children in reception class were overweight or obese compared with 23% of children in England.

As Good Food for All points out, one of the big factors in childhood obesity is the link with deprivation. A Public Health Wales study taken earlier this year found that 1 in 6 children in Merthyr Tydfil are obese, compared with 1 in 12 children in the Vale of Glamorgan.

This isn’t just a Welsh problem. As Defra outlined last year ‘low income households in the UK spend more than the average on food and drinks high in fat and sugar and less than the average on fruit and vegetables’.  There is no easy answer to these problems as Morgan makes clear, ‘the public health community in the UK has been valiantly addressing this question for many years, fighting an uphill battle against a food industry that is far better resourced in terms of money and political influence’.

The public health campaign has also been focused on information. As Good Food for All points out, the evidence suggests that most people already know what they’re eating is bad for them.

While this challenge will not be solved by government policy alone, indeed Professor Morgan calls for a societal response to this crisis, the Welsh Government can take direct action to begin addressing these problems.

The IWA’s Senedd paper highlights how the Scottish Government have put considerable effort into promoting the Food for Life Scotland Catering Mark in schools, work places, care homes, leisure centres and visitor attractions. Scotland has ambitious plans to increase the take-up of good food with the aim of improving public health and boosting the Scottish food industry. Kevin Morgan, a Professor of Governance and Development at Cardiff University, says there is no reason why Wales shouldn’t follow in these measures. While the Welsh Government supports the principle of good food for all, more direct action is needed:

“While ministers might say that they already support the principle of good food for all, the point is that nothing speaks louder than the Food for Life imprimatur, which provides the incontrovertible evidence that public bodies are not just talking about values but practicing them – the difference between good intentions and good practice.”

The paper is the third IWA Senedd Paper, a partnership between the independent think-tank and the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly to generate policy ideas for the political parties to consider.  In the latest paper published on Wednesday Kevin Morgan, a Fellow of the IWA, sets out a three-point plan for manifesto writers to consider:

  • A special team of a dozen food procurement specialists to be set-up centrally to help public sector bodies throughout Wales use the power of purchase to ensure good food for all in public settings.

  • The next WG must emulate the determination of the Scottish Government to become a Good Food Nation by leading from the front by adopting the Food for Life Catering Mark model in its own catering and promoting the model to others as well.

  • Piloting, then rolling out, the Food For Life standards in schools through the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes

To download Good Food for All for free please visit the IWA website.

You can listen to a short discussion of the paper between Professor Morgan and IWA Director Lee Waters here. And you can watch his speech at the report launch here

Jess Blair is the IWA’s Policy and Projects Manager. She is Co-editor of Click on Wales.

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