Guest blog: It’s time for industry to change their recipes and make our food healthier

Guest blog: It’s time for industry to change their recipes and make our food healthier

Food Active is one of 37 organisations who have joined the new Recipe for Change campaign. Kate Howard, Children’s Food Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, explains why we’re calling for the government to expand more industry levies to make food healthier.

We know that families want their food to be not only affordable and convenient but also good for them. And yet, eating healthily is harder to do than we think. Aside from advertising and promotions designed to convince us to buy products that we know are less healthy, our food is also full of hidden saturated fats, salt and sugar. For example, a huge 85% of the salt we eat is already in our food when we buy it, including staples like sauces and some meats.

Right now, we eat 40% more salt than advised and a shocking 95% of children consume more sugar than recommended. The food we buy can and should be healthier.

The impact of our food containing too much salt, sugar and saturated fat is seen in increased high blood pressure (leading to stroke and cardiovascular disease), as well as rising obesity rates, type 2 diabetes and a range of cancers. Worryingly, 24% of children in England have also experienced dental decay by the age of 5.

Aside from the impact this has on individuals and families, this also affects us as a country. Our poor health leads to reduced workforce participation and productivity, and the total economic impact of obesity in the UK is estimated to be around £58 billion annually.

It’s time something was done to support people across the nation to eat as healthily as we would all like to.

That’s why we at Sustain are working alongside partners such as the Obesity Health Alliance and Food Foundation to launch Recipe for Change, calling on the Government to introduce a new levy on the food and drinks industry to help make our food healthier – our coalition, which includes Food Active, is now 37 members strong.

This is building on the successful model of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), as well as recommendations in the National Food Strategy. We’ve also released new research showing that up to 2 million cases of disease could be prevented with a new industry-wide salt and sugar levy, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and range of cancers. Try our calculator here to see how much of a difference a new levy could make in your local area.

Put simply, a new levy would mean companies have to pay a tax based on the sugar and salt content of their products. If they reduce these ingredients, they pay less, or even nothing – this is a strong incentive to change products, as we saw with SDIL.

If companies don’t change their ingredients, then they pay the levy, which we are calling to be used to fund programmes supporting children’s health. With the SDIL, companies largely reformulated or reduced portion sizes, and where they didn’t, revenues had a huge impact through programmes such as National School Breakfast programme, the Primary School Sports and PE Premium, and the Essential Life Skills Programme.

Businesses change the recipes of their products all the time and they have the ability to gradually adapt the ingredients of everyday products to have a big impact on our health. Many companies support this but want a level-playing field where all businesses are required to meet the same standards, to help them to produce better food.

We also know that the public are supportive of intervention: 68% would support the Government expanding the SDIL model to other food and drink, if revenue raised went to initiatives for children’s health.

In the face of the evidence on the economic and health impacts, as well as support from businesses and the public, the question is: when will the Government create powerful new incentives to get companies to change the recipes of our food and help us build a healthier nation?

Kate Howard joined the team at Sustain in June, and works closely on the Recipe for Change campaign. She has worked in a range of health and care settings, including with young people and in reproductive health, and is a keen community gardener in her spare time. 

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