- I am not surprised by this food tsar’s resignation
- Why diet related disease will cost us all in the end, no matter how healthy we try to be
- How to escape the media mind-warp
Well, there we have it.
Last Monday, Henry Dimbleby, the government’s food tsar, resigned from his position.
He complained that the government’s approach to tackling obesity “makes no sense”.
And honestly, I am not shocked in the slightest.
Dimbleby co-founded the food chain Leon and has been a vocal advocate for healthy eating and sustainable food systems.
His resignation highlights the government’s lack of commitment to this critical issue and their failure to follow through on promises to restrict junk food advertising.
His suggested measures included taxing salt and sugar in processed foods and using the revenues to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income families.
But none of those ideas were taken forward.
Now, I don’t really want to wade into party politics – for me, this is an issue that everyone needs to worry about, whether you are on the left or right.
Diet related disease will cost us all dearly
As someone who cares about the food we eat, I’m deeply concerned about the state of our broken food system.
We need policies that support local, seasonal food systems, improve food education and labelling, and prioritise our well-being.
We need people to realise how food can heal us, prevent disease and keep us out of the GP’s surgery.
But the profits of big business are put ahead of our health.
It’s in the interests of the food companies to drive food cravings.
Our nation is becoming shockingly unhealthy, with rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses on a sharp rise.
This is not only a public health crisis but also a social justice issue, as those with less access to good quality fresh food are disproportionately affected.
What’s more, no matter how healthy we each keep ourselves as individuals, it’s going to cost us ALL.
Dimbleby told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In 10 years’ time, whatever government is in power they are going to be dealing with huge problems to the NHS, which is going to suck money from the rest of government spending and cause misery from diet-related disease.”
So if you do all the right things, eat well and exercise, you still might suffer the consequences when you need treatment for a serious disease and there’s no money in the coffers.
Now, I totally understand some people’s fears about a ‘nanny state’ – but the issue isn’t about telling people what to do and what not to do in their personal lives.
It’s about not letting the foxes take charge of the hen house.
It’s about not allowing big corporate profits to take precedence over the health of the nation.
It’s about understanding that individuals can’t always choose to be healthy when there are so many social forces stacked against them…
These include money problems… lack of nutritional education… easy, cheap, bad food everywhere, all the time… and an almost constant bombardment of marketing.
Advertising has a significant effect – not just on children, but adults too. For example:
- A study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour found that exposure to food advertising was associated with increased consumption of unhealthy foods and decreased consumption of healthy foods, in adults.
- A systematic review of the evidence conducted by the World Health Organisation found that exposure to food advertising was associated with an increased consumption of fatty, sugary and salty foods.
- A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that exposure to unhealthy food advertising was associated with higher calorie intake among adults.
- A report in the International Journal of Obesity showed that exposure to unhealthy food advertising was associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and increased likelihood of adults being overweight or obese.
This is why it’s unfair to blame individuals for struggles in controlling their eating behaviours. These are individuals that also live in a society that makes it hard to be healthy.
Food cravings like these blight the lives of so many people.
However, bearing in mind that things look unlikely to change, it’s worth thinking about this…
Ways to escape the media’s bad influence
For most people, it’s not possible to switch off all those pervasive messages that make us want to grab the nearest carb or to eat too much, too often…
…To give in to their food cravings.
Unless we abandon our smartphones, TVs and radios… hide all magazines and newspapers… and deactivate social media…
Even then, a walk down any street will hit you with all kinds of advertising messages on billboards, buses and shop windows.
Then when you get into a supermarket, you’re hit with all kinds of suggested messages and alluring offers.
One big problem that Dimbleby wanted to address was supermarket deals on unhealthy foods, such as ‘buy one get one free’ promotions. These encourage shoppers to buy more than they need or to choose less healthy options over healthier alternatives.
The proposition is that the government ban these, so that supermarkets can only offer these kinds of deals on healthy, whole foods.
But whether they take that kind of step, only time will tell.
So look, I appreciate that it’s not realistic to detach yourself entirely from the influence of the media.
However, you can:
- Use an ad blocker on your web browser to reduce exposure to online ads.
- Examine food labels carefully for the nutritional content. Look for foods that are high in fibre, protein, and other nutrients, and low in added sugars and unhealthy fats.
- Plan meals in advance to avoid impulsive food choices. Never shop when you’re hungry. Bring healthy snacks with you when you’re on the go to avoid being tempted.
- Stick to the perimeter of the supermarket where the fresh produce, lean meats, and other healthy options are typically located. Avoid the centre aisles where processed and packaged foods tend to dominate.
If you struggle with food cravings and impulsive buying, these could be worth a try!