Invest In Child Health
Now that the general election is over, here at the Soil Association HQ we are asking the new government to take on eight essential policies.
One policy that we are asking the new government to commit to is investing in child health. We are asking the new government to commit to creating an environment where it is normal, easy and enjoyable for children and young people to eat well.
Why is this important?
For the public’s health
Today nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. Reducing obesity levels will save lives as obesity doubles the risk of dying prematurely. Obese adults are seven times more likely to become a type 2 diabetic than adults of a healthy weight which may cause blindness or limb amputation. And not only are obese people more likely to get physical health conditions like heart disease, they are also more likely to be living with conditions like depression.
For the economy
The economic costs are great, too. We spend more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we do on the police, fire service and judicial system combined. It was estimated that the NHS in England spent £5.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014/15.
The burden is falling hardest on those children from low-income backgrounds. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most deprived areas and this is getting worse. Children aged 5 and from the poorest income groups are twice as likely to be obese compared to their most well-off counterparts and by age 11 they are three times as likely.
Last year the Health Select Committee called for ‘brave and bold’ action to improve the dietary health of UK children. It is essential that we start dealing with the obesity crisis at its source, rather than spending huge amounts trying to treat the symptoms in later life. We are increasingly distanced from our food, as a society. We are unaware of how it’s grown, how it is made and what’s in it. We need to make a lasting and sustainable change if the dietary health of UK children is to change.
What should the policy look like?
Building on the Obesity Plan
The Obesity Plan, set out last year, included a set of actions that contribute towards this goal in England. Reactions to the Plan were mixed - many child health campaigners were unhappy, as was food industry. We are calling on the next Government to commit to fulfilling these actions and to build on this Plan.
Investment In School Meals
The new Government should also commit to ongoing investment in school meals, including maintaining the level of investment in free school meals represented by Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM), and by committing to the ongoing implementation of the School Food Plan.
Free school meals is a great example of an intervention which benefits all but benefits the poorest most. It has the potential to both increase attainment of the poorest in school and closes the attainment gap between the haves and have-nots.
The new Government should make it clear that they will not tolerate the younger generation growing up with regularly consuming unhealthy food being normalised, or having no concept of where their food comes from.
What evidence is there that this could work?
Our Food For Life program is in more than half of primary schools in England and Wales. Food For Life’s whole school approach has been shown to increase take up and change dietary behaviors. For example, pupils in Food For Life schools are twice as likely to eat five a day and a third less likely to eat no fruit or vegetables than pupils in comparison schools. (Jones et al, 2015). It even influences the amount their eating habits at home - 45% of parents reported eating more vegetables as a result of Food for Life. (Orme et al, 2011)
Evidence even points towards Food for Life's potential to contribute to helping 'close the gap' for disadvantaged children in terms of their health and academic attainment. (Teeman et al, 2011)
How can I take action?
Now that the new government is forming, you can help by asking your local MP what their food and farming priorities are regarding the issues that matter most to you. If you’d like some suggestions, please have a look at our general election priorities and choose the one that you would most like to discuss.
You can also join us in making good food the easy choice for everyone by becoming a member today.
If you’d like to know more of our general election priorities, or you would like to stay up to date with other food and farming policy, you can visit our Food and Farming Policy Hub.