Food strategy to reduce consumption of junk food and reduce new cases of type 2 diabetes
The impact of excess salt and sugar in our diets
“This contributes to poor health and costs us millions of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) per year. Sugar consumption is one of the main contributing factors in people becoming overweight or obese, which is estimated to account for over 1.4 million DALYs annually. It can lead to conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke – not to mention tooth decay, which is the leading cause of hospital admissions in children aged 6–10yrs.
“Type 2 diabetes (the type linked to poor diet) cost the NHS £8.8bn in 2011/12. And these costs will rise, given that obesity is expected to continue increasing until it peaks at 37% of the population in the mid-2030s. One study estimated that every unit of body mass index put on by every individual raises the UK’s annual healthcare costs by £16. By 2035/36, type 2 diabetes could cost the NHS £15.1bn a year, or one and a half times as much as cancer does today. “It therefore seems clear that we should try to reduce individuals’ sugar and salt consumption.”
Additional measures recommended included introducing mandatory reporting for large food companies, the launch of a “Eat and learn” initiative for schools, extending eligibility for free school meals and expanding the Healthy Start scheme.
School children's diets
Regarding school-age children’s diets, the report said: “Good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight in childhood help prevent obesity and diet-related ill health later in life. The school closures that have punctuated the pandemic have worsened the situation. Evidence suggests that children’s diets have deteriorated during the pandemic: 35% of secondary school pupils report consuming more cakes and biscuits, 41% more crisps and 28% more sugary drinks.”
In addition, the report recommended trialling a proposed “Community Eatwell” programme, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets. The report said: “Low consumption of fruit and vegetables is linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. In 2019, diets low in fruit accounted for 10,066 premature deaths and approximately 210,000 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in the UK. “Such programmes can be highly cost-effective. The NHS spent over half a billion pounds on anti-diabetes medication in 2018/19, at an average cost of more than £300 per patient. By contrast, in one US study, a fruit and vegetable prescription programme cut diabetic patients’ blood sugar levels by an average of 7.5% in 13 weeks, at a cost of $40 per patient.”
Reaction to the report
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, responding to the publication of the paper, reportedly ruled out support for its key recommendation for a £3bn sugar and salt tax to tackle the dominance of junk food.
TV chef and school diet campaigner Jamie Oliver said: “This is no time for half-hearted measures. If both government and businesses are willing to take bold action and prioritise the public’s health, then we have an incredible opportunity to create a much fairer and more sustainable food system for all families.”
Luke Pollard, the shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, said: “This is a massive wake-up call to fix Britain’s broken food system. The government should be working to ensure every family can afford for their children to get a healthy hot meal every day. Britain’s high food and farming standards must be protected in law not watered down in trade deals.”