Government's Food Advisor Says Plan To Break "Junk Food Cycle" Won't Push Up Food Prices
A new food strategy which proposes prescribing vegetables on the NHS and increasing taxes on sugar and salt would help protect the health service, its author has claimed.
Food writer and co-found of Leon restaurants Henry Dimbleby, who authored the new National Food Strategy, has claimed a major shake up in eating habits is urgently needed to fix the UK's "malfunctioning" system.
The independent report, commissioned by the government, calls for a new £3bn levy on sugar and salt and the ability for GPs to prescribe overweight people with fruit and vegetables.
Pointing towards shocking statistics which show around 20,000 people each year are forced to have amputations because of diabetes, Dimbelby said the change was required to end the "junk food cycle".
"What is actually happening is what we call, a junk food cycle – a negative feedback loop – where these foods are tasty, they satiate us, they make us full much less quickly and depending on your genetics you find them hard to resist," he told the BBC's Today programme.
"You've seen companies put more and more money into marketing these things, the market gets biggers, its a horrible cycle.
"We spend £2.2bn in this country on vegetables and £3.9bn on sweets alone, so the recommendation is you change the incentives in the system."
Dimbleby dismissed critics who claimed the levy would force up prices, saying most products could instead be "reformulated" to reduce harmful levels of sugar and salt.
"We do not actually believe that for more things it will hike the price, what it will do is it will reformulate, it will make people take sugar and salt out," he said."We have modelled this in detail, there is huge scope for reformulation.
"There may be some products that you can't reformulate, something like Frosties where it is basically pure sugar, it is going to be hard to reformulate.
"But the question you have to ask then is, is the freedom to keep Frosties cheap worth destroying the NHS for?"
He added: "If you look, the average shopping basket for an average family is about £90-95 a week, if you take the worst case scenario that might go up by £1 a week."
He said that money raised from the tax would be used to improve the dietary habits of people with weight related disease, including prescribing fruit and veg and providing cookery lessons.
"There are some fascinating programmes which have been trialled in Washington and Ohio in the United States where people who have diet related disease can be prescribed literally fruit and veg," he said.
"Instead of giving them drugs you give them fruit and veg, and cookery lessons and visits to the store to change the way they shop.
"These have had extraordinary results, BMI down five points, blood pressure down 20 points, and overtime they have actually saved money on drugs."He added: "Rather than mopping up everything in the NHS we need to be spending a bit more money to stop people getting to the NHS, because it is not just money, it is their health... it is their ability to enjoy their grandchildren."
Speaking on Thursday, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would look at the "interesting proposals" but claimed they had to be "very careful" about increasing pressure on families finances.
"They are interesting findings, the environment secretary is going to consider them and then bring forward our own food strategy in the coming months, so I am not going to comment on the individual proposals," he told Sky News.
"It does raise a very significant issue for the whole country. Our own relationship with food and farming is really important on a whole range of different levels, from backing those businesses here in the UK, instilling a sense of pride in us supporting local food.
"Obviously health and health inequalities which are even more prominent as we come out of the pandemic. And our role internationally in striking trade deals and ensuring we uphold high standards for our food supply."
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