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Time for a prevention-led model to rebuild the nation’s health

British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT)

7 min read Partner content

BANT is calling for change in public health policy!

Download our full manifesto here.

The British public live longer, yet unhealthier lives than previous generations. Many people in the UK will experience decades with serious chronic illness, mental health concerns and a decline in quality of life, much of which is preventable.

BANT (British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine) is calling on all parties to place nutrition and preventative healthcare at the heart of their pledges to the UK population. It is time to focus on prevention and harness the existing workforce of nutrition professionals to make a real difference in the nation’s health crisis.

BANT has published a five-point manifesto urging decisive action to future-proof the NHS.

GPs are facing a growing stream of chronically ill patients. The obvious solution is to bring  Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioners into primary care where they would ease the burden on surgeries, free-up resources currently tied to the care of chronic conditions, and allow for better outcomes in acute and critical care.

A decisive transition in public health policy with a focus on a prevention-led model would:

  • Release NHS staff and resources currently tied to the care of chronic conditions, allowing better outcomes in acute and critical care.
  • Empower and inform individuals to make lasting and meaningful changes to their health and lifestyle. It will seek to foster a sense of individual responsibility and agency.
  • Provide a wealth of consistent and reliable information, resources and guidance to support people to improve their health and advocate improved lifestyles to others.
  • Create an environment for good health through nutrition, which encourages healthy food choices, provides truly useful food labelling to allow informed choices, and places restrictions on ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPFDs) that are causing so much harm to society.

BANT is passionate about the UK food environment. Following in the footsteps of our ‘Food for your Health’ initiatives, we are calling to improve the severely outdated and under-funded Eatwell Guide, alongside taking measures to reform food labelling and restrict ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPFDs), in a collective effort to create a food environment for good health. We are not alone in calling for these changes. There is a growing ground swell the length of the country and across all age and socio-economic groups, calling for action on the food industry.

In this article, we outline our plan for feeding our future and transforming health and nutrition in Britain with the following six actions:

  1. Policy to support a healthier population.
  2. Increase funding for prevention.
  3. Include nutrition practitioners in the NHS.
  4. Update national dietary guidelines.
  5. Legislation on food labelling.
  6. Action against the drivers of obesity.

1 – BANT calls for policy to support a healthier population

The increasing burden of chronic disease requires a shift in focus from both Parliament and within the NHS to put crucial healthcare prevention strategies at the heart of policy.

We are now at a critical tipping point. According to BANT CEO Satu Jackson:

“The health of the nation is dire. The statistics don’t lie. As a nation, we are the sickest in Europe1&3, with spiralling rates of obesity, overweight, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, cancer, and mental health. There have been an astounding 14 strategies and 680 policies put in place by the various governments since 1992 simply relating to obesity. They have all failed3.”

Focus on disease prevention is the only option if we are to future-proof the NHS.

We need policies that recognise the major contributors of modern-day disease and understand which factors are modifiable with preventative measures.

Causality cannot be solved pharmaceutically. There is one tried and tested way to ‘treat’ diet-induced disease, and that is by improving how we eat. Read our full statement here.

2 – BANT calls for an increase in funding for prevention

We need the Government to increase funding provisions to facilitate the NHS transition towards a prevention-led model and relieve the pressure on General Practitioners.

Currently, only 5% of NHS spend goes on prevention4. We need funding now to invest in long-term initiatives to change the current health trajectory. Funding, together with an expansion of the workforce would pave the way for a prevention-led model to bring in experts in nutrition and lifestyle medicine to focus on diet-induced chronic illness and allow for:

  • An expansion of social prescribing to facilitate referrals to Professional Standards Authority (PSA) -accredited nutrition practitioners.
  • Funding of nutrition consultations for patients with food-mediated illnesses.
  • Introduction of government-funded healthy food prescriptions to empower GPs to prescribe healthy whole foods.

Read our full statement here.

3 – BANT calls for inclusion of nutrition practitioners in the NHS

Currently there are c.3,500 BANT members; Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioners trained and qualified in clinical practice. Crucially they help to reduce and reverse many of the symptoms associated with the diet-induced chronic diseases currently overwhelming the NHS.

As we count down to a general election, we have a unique opportunity to integrate PSA-accredited Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioners into NHS primary care settings:

  • In GP surgeries for automatic referrals on diet-induced symptoms
  • In out-patient settings to advise on nutrition next steps following treatment
  • In paediatric clinics for dietary education for young families
  • In integrative healthcare teams to provide active support for patients with metabolic, digestive, cardiovascular, inflammatory, and autoimmune conditions.

We call on political parties to prioritise bringing nutrition and lifestyle medicine professionals into the NHS to support patients with diet and lifestyle-induced illness.

Read our full statement here.

4 – BANT calls for an update to National Dietary Guidelines

Public understanding of nutrition is at an all-time low with less than 0.1 percent of the population currently achieving the national Eatwell Guidelines. The Eatwell guidance was last updated in 2016 and unfortunately is now outdated. UK guidance has fallen behind other developed nations in providing dietary recommendations based on the current science; optimal nutrient needs for health; and sustainability and environmental considerations.

Public health guidance is based on population-wide recommendations which do not apply to the estimated 50% of the population suffering from chronic conditions.

BANT calls for a review of national guidelines to update recommendations on:

  • animal and plant proteins
  • carbohydrates and sugars
  • unhealthy versus essential fatty acids
  • portion guidance and serving suggestions.

Furthermore, we need investment to adequately communicate guidelines nationwide, to all members of British society, and provide educational resources to empower the population to make healthy choices.

Read our full statement here.

5 – BANT calls for legislation on food labelling

BANT has spent decades calling for changes in policy regarding food labelling.

Legal loopholes continue to mislead consumers as to the true content of sugars and fats in manufactured foods. Modified starches and nonnutritive ‘artificial’ sweeteners are used industry-wide to alter the declared sugar and fat profiles of products, despite both having a high glycaemic impact.

Lack of progress on legislation regarding labelling, and failure to introduce a mandatory labelling system (traffic light vs nutri-score vs other) has led to ongoing confusion for consumers and the inability to make informed decisions about their food purchases.

Food labelling should be honest and meaningful to consumers.

Read our full statement here.

6 – BANT calls for action against the drivers of obesity

We need to act against the drivers of obesity in the UK by de-escalating the expansion of addictive ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPFDs). More than 50% of the UK national diet is comprised of these products. A 2024 review found that ultra-processed foods are linked to 32 harmful effects on health5.

The government continues to renege on policy on advertising and in-store ‘Buy one get one free’ (BOGOF) promotions allowing both manufacturers and retailers to continue profiting from sales of UPFDs whilst the nation’s health worsens.

We must prioritise providing access to affordable health-promoting foods to all communities, particularly low-income families.

BANT calls for a review of the current Sugar Tax to include ingredients such as maltodextrins and nonnutritive (artificial) sweeteners.

The road to obesity is complex. So too is the road back to a healthy population, but it needs to start with meaningful action and incentives to reshape the food industry and retail environment so that they lead on healthy whole food ingredients.

Read our full statement on UPFDs here.

A general election provides parties with the unique opportunity to mark a transition in public health policy, with a focus on a prevention-led model. It is time for change!

Download our full manifesto here.


References

  1. Green, D, Filkin, G; Woods, T; Our unhealthy nation, The Lancet Volume 2, Issue 1, E8-E9 January 202, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanhl/article/PIIS2666-7568(20)30062-3/fulltext 
  2. The Guardian, Oct 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/18/alarming-data-britain-sick-man-europe-before-covid, ACCESSED 11/04/2024
  3. The Standard, May 2022 https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/britain-better-than-689-failed-obesity-policies-uk-b1000503.html
  4. Office for National Statistics. (2020). Healthcare expenditure, UK health accounts: 2018. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthcaresystem
  5. BMJ 2024;384:e077310  https://www.bmj.com/content/384/bmj-2023-077310

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