National Food Strategy calls on the government to commit to a ‘better food system for a healthier nation’

The National Food Strategy Part 2 has called on the government to act on further recommendations to build a healthier society.

Food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby’s landmark report, sets out a wide range of measures that aim to improve nutrition and diet across the UK, while also creating a more sustainable farming system.

Cheap and highly processed food is taking a significant toll on our bodies and long-term health. 80% of processed food sold in the UK is unhealthy. Furthermore, because there is a bigger market for unhealthy food, companies invest more into developing and marketing it.

The report details 14 recommendations that need urgent attention and action. Covid-19 has highlighted the problems and the lack of support aimed at children living in the most deprived areas. The National Food Strategy also states that children living in those areas are less likely to be eating healthier, home cooked meals:

“Poverty causes high levels of stress, sleeplessness and cognitive overload. Numerous studies have shown how scarcity of money, food or time affects cognitive processes, in effect narrowing mental “bandwidth”. This can result in people making decisions that go against their long-term interests. People from the poorest households are much less likely to adopt healthy behaviours – such as planning and cooking meals from scratch – because all their energy is taken up with coping in the short term.

“Whatever the government’s other “levelling up” priorities may be, there is a particular urgency to the problem of helping low income families eat well.”

Recommendation number 4

This recommendation calls on the government to extend eligibility for free school meals. Only 20% of children in the poorest socio-economic class who would have to pay for school meals do so.

The government should:

  • Raise the household earnings threshold for free school meals (FSMs) from £7,400 to £20,000
  • Extend eligibility to children who are undocumented or have No Recourse to Public Funds (NPRF)
  • Enrol eligible children for free school meals automatically.

Following these recommendations, the number of children accessing free school meals would increase by 1.1 million, at a cost of £555m per year.

June O’Sullivan, chief exec of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) said:

“With children aged 4-6 in the most deprived households twice as likely to have obesity compared to those in the least deprived households, never has there been a more pertinent time for food education to be central to the national curriculum – and this must include the Early Years.

“Whilst initiatives such as the LEYF Chef Academy and professional qualification help bridge this gap, more robust measures must be introduced at Government level to support the diets of those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods. It’s absolutely scandalous that in 2021, children are coming to nursery hungry and parents are having to access the daily food banks which we now provide as an essential necessity.”

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