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.

10 thoughts on “Obesity threatens to bankrupt the NHS

  1. Our food manufacturing businesses are in grave danger of becoming viewed as tomorrows tobacco companies. Smoking is banned in all public places and most of us can’t now imagine it any other way. Meanwhile our public buildings are permitted to have vending machines and cafeterias pumping out chocolate and sweets and other unhealthy substances to all and sundry. Hospital staff seem to be particularly prone to tuck into the biscuits even though they see the evidence of the damage on a daily basis. Local authorities don’t hesitate to allow yet another fast food joint to set up business on the high street or within waddling distance of sink estates. Clearly leaving the decision up to the individual isn’t working and in this instance government action for the greater good is required to physically remove temptation. We are talking about cravings and addictions here – you wouldn’t leave cider on the table at a youth club and simply tell them not to touch it.

    Poor leadership at the Senedd yet again is cited. A quick scan of its portly membership and it is quite apparent that there isn’t much elbow room at the buffet there either !

  2. Just curious if there are any sane people around or the Welsh establishment and those close to them know what’s the best for the masses. No progressive society needs a ‘nanny state’ but it has a duty to educate, inform, support but never to control, impose or judge people. Live and let live and in my view even rats have rights to be fat See: http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/Fat-rat-Port-Talbot-battle-win-UK-slimming/story-26768520-detail/story.html

  3. Live and let live is exactly the issue. Right now, because vast swathes of the population manifestly don’t have the wit or will to take onboard the plentiful educational material available on this subject, resources diverted to dealing with illness associated with their self imposed condition are not available for others with serious medical conditions contracted through no fault of their own. They don’t get to live.

  4. As a humble ‘pleb’ its not for me to comment of Professor Morgan but this looks like another ‘statist’ approach to our problems,however they do not seem to working in CYMRU at present. I would think that due to Barnett then our friends,or otherwise in the North have a distinct advantage,and comparisons are not fair to WAG or others.I am sure that Bevan and other ‘clear’ thinkers never thought that people would engage in such ‘self destructive’ measures,and even less that hard working people would fund any ‘corrective’ measures our of taxation,and very often to their own detriment.I’m not sure if the good Professor and others of ‘power and influence’ ever walk around Tesco and see that the fattest SLOBS have massive baskets full of processed/convenience foods,and seek to park as close to the store as possible to reduce walking etc etc. The NHS is bound to collapse eventually as the power of our economy/tax raising in Wales is insufficient to fund a never ending rise,in real terms in expenditure needed to meet a never ending rise in demand. The provision of good food is a step in process of better health,however after talking to a good friend and long establish medical practioner is the role of exercise,and currently our WAG is cutting expenditure of sporting/recreational facilities at a pace.It appears joined up thinking is ‘out of fashion’,except for favoured projects!!..

  5. I attended the Senedd talk on this paper and was interested to hear that an expensive standards scheme had been suggested as one of the points in the manifesto. Food for Life is a great scheme and I can see how it would benefit retailers and private catering companies. In the public sector, schools and the third sector the Food for Life mark is a luxury that surely few could afford (there is a cap of £995 for Local Authorities).

    Signatories to the Welsh Government’s SD Charter have been dropping ‘paid for’ standards for some time – the National Botanic Gardens whilst eligible for a Gold Food for Life Award in 2013 could not commit to the £1200 per year the mark cost.

    In the public sector venues – such as Margam Park and other public facing caterers could benefit from the status the mark could bring however the use of it for staff in offices – who use council office canteens seems unnecessary – the food can still meet the criteria without being subject to an expensive standard.

    The Fairtrade Mark is a free initiative you can be a Fairtrade Business by supplying a number of Fairtrade products its voluntary.

    There is an opportunity here to develop a mark for Wales or perhaps to build it into existing tools such as the SD Charter which is a voluntary commitment which carries no mark and offers support to organisations to become more sustainable http://www.sd-charter.net.

  6. A bit of nannying can be a good thing – I would offer Subway concessions in all Welsh hospitals and ask Subway to even expand their salad bar choices to include even more fresh vegetable and salad options. I’d encourage artisan bakeries to thrive so that we can easily get bread made the slow way. I’d be stricter about hydrogenated fats – do as the Danish have done, and pretty much ban them. I’d encourage fresh food cooking, and the small businesses (restaurants and cafes) that can deliver this approach to eating. Basically, if small farms, and small market gardeners, and home producers, can deliver the real variety of produce that it’s possible to produce, and so bring back more choice of fresh flavours (apples for example), then I would want to make it much easier for them to succeed at this. Supermarkets are valuable of course; they have expertise in food production methods, transport, and networks. But fresh food is king, and fresh food cooking can get us out of this obesity nightmare.

  7. P.S. Fresh food satisfies us in a wonderful way: it has a marvellous appetite satisfying quality, tending to limit just how much we feel like eating at any meal – this is naturally good for our waistlines, for our sense if well-being, and even for our purses….and therein lies the dilemma….do we as a society choose health, and make health work, or do we choose what appears to be a fast route to riches?

  8. Finally – fresh food will transform our lives. We’ll feel livelier, and more motivated and energetic…..our children and young people will be perkier, and want to play outside again, and we adults will be able to put calorie counting aside, and stop chastising ourselves about how much or how little we’re eating, or how much and often, and for how many hours we’re exercising. Just as for the very young, the older people will desire to move about too, to stretch their limbs, and breathe fresh air.

  9. The only kind of obesity likely to bankrupt the NHS is the number of fat cats it employs!

  10. The many and expensive top down attempts by government agencies of all kinds (remember the Food Standards Agency’s reduce salt campaigns?…and did you?) to convince people to eat more of what’s ‘good for them (and relinquish what’s ‘bad’) have all tended to fail because as Prof. Morgan and others point out, the big food companies who make their profits from selling us their health-theatening junk food have much cleverer and better funded tools of mass persuasion at their disposal, but also because we are all drawn to consuming food (and other experiences!) which give us the most pleasure possible within the budget available to us. The better-heeled (amongst them many food-linked health professionals, civil servants and academics, of course) may head out to a nice restaurant on the weekends, while those with a tighter budget may be found with the family in Macdonalds, but the motivation is the same. To share food and enjoy themselves.
    The well-meaning attempts by well-paid professionals to ‘encourage and enable’ poor people to eat better often flounder on the rocks of the reality that, in our hugely unequal society, the opportunities to make healthy choices in the pursuit of eating pleasure are so constricted for those increasing numbers who are stuck at the lower end of the economic scale. And any attempt by the better-off to occupy a moral high ground when it come to eating choices is ‘unconcious privilege’ (i.e. ignorance) of an unforgiveable kind. They should know better, and maybe need talk more to people on low incomes to find out why they make the food buying and eating choices they do.
    In addition to Kevin’s well targeted pleas for a better allocation of public money in filling the public plate with healthy options, I suggest two other possible ways of significantly influencing food choices in a healthier direction for people who watch their food costs carefully. Firstly, limit, as far as is possible, the misleading propaganda which is so regularly dished out (pardon the pun) by the junk food industry (I’d include refusing planning permission to junk food outlets that want to locate near schools etc); and secondly, provide subsidies to healthier and locally produced food options, which would make them more affordable, thus increasing their take-up by the population, and reducing the massive health bill of dealing with the after-effects of excessive junk food consumption – and as an additional benefit also provide an economic boost for local, sustainable and healthy food producers of all kinds.
    If the Welsh Government is sincere in wanting to achieve it’s aim of having a healthier and more sustainable food system which provides ‘good food for all’ to all, they need to put more money where our mouths are. Anything else is just hot air, and we’ve had more than enough of that from them on this particular topic – perhaps the effect of consuming the metaphorical beans of policy without the meat of resources attached?

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy