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Broken Plate 2023 report: changes to UK food environment needed to adopt a more sustainable, healthier diet

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Concept of UK with empty plate colored with the colors of British flag and silver cutlery on a vintage plank background

Significant changes must be made to the UK’s current food environment to allow everyone to shift towards more sustainable and healthier diets, according to the Food Foundation’s Broken Plate 2023 report, published today [27.06.2023.]

The nation’s current food system is failing, it says. Instead of boosting the health and wellbeing of its people, it’s having a seriously negative impact on nutrition and the environment.

Impact on nutrition

  • The UK lags behind most other high-income countries when it comes to population health, with its citizens having the second worst healthy life expectancy at birth, after the USA.
  • An international comparison study from 2019 also shows the UK’s food system is stunting children’s growth, with British five-year-old boys having the shortest average high out of all high income western countries, while five-year-old girls in the UK are the second shortest after those in Belgium.
  • When it comes to childhood obesity, if current eating habits continue, the UK will see 45% of children being obese or overweight by 2035.
  • More low sugar options for kids are needed on the market, the report says, as currently just 7% of breakfast cereals and 8% of yoghurts marketed to children are low in sugar. This is visibly impacting kids’ health, as nearly a quarter of five-year-olds in the country have dental decay.
  • Some 56% of calories consumed by older children (over the age of 11) and adults come from ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in the UK. According to a 2016 international comparison study, the country has the third highest consumption of UPFs, after the Netherlands and Germany. The lowest consumers of UPFs are Italy and Greece.
  • Affordability is having a negative impact on diet quality, with the most deprived fifth of adults in the UK consuming 37% fewer fruits and vegetables, over 50% less oily fish, and 17% less dietary fibre than the least deprived fifth.
  • The number of food outlets selling UPFs has grown too, making unhealthy foods the most accessible. One in four places to buy food on UK high streets are fast-food outlets, the report highlights. Again, this is negatively impacting the most deprived areas, with 30.5% of all food outlets in England in the lowest-income regions selling fast food, in comparison to 21.1% in the least deprived areas.

Impact on sustainable diets

  • If no major changes are made to the UK’s current food system, emissions coming from its food industry will be four times higher than the level that is needed for the country to reach its net-zero target, says the Food Foundation.
  • The high price of foods is a major barrier to adopting sustainable diets, with more healthy foods being over twice as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods. The most deprived fifth of the UK population would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to meet the cost of the Government recommended Eatwell Guide diet.
  • The cost of sustainable alternatives also needs to be targeted the report notes, with sustainable plant-based alternatives said to be 27% more expensive than the cheapest chicken breast on the market.
  • Business transparency on the sales of healthy and sustainable foods also needs to improve, with just eight major UK food retailers, caterers and restaurant chains currently reporting publicly on sales of healthy food, fruit and vegetables or animal vs plant-based proteins. Around 19 retailers, caterers and restaurant chains are not reporting on any of these metrics.

To begin properly addressing these problems, the Food Foundation has called for bold action from the Government, city leaders, businesses, and investors to ensure the most affordable, available and appealing foods are those that are also good for the people and the planet.


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