The Farm at Evening

UK Food Policy: Volume First, Not the Planet or Health

Boris Johnson has come to a new view on food, health, and obesity. “The best way to lose weight, believe me, is to eat less,” he said yesterday. And thus, he seems to justify dropping any pretense of interest in addressing obesity. In line with this, his UK government released a new food policy document to Parliament yesterday. Though this plan includes an objective to “halve childhood obesity by 2030” and “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts of the food system,” experts note that any substantive proposals for meeting these two objectives are missing.

A year ago, the government received an independent proposal for a national food strategy it commissioned. Businessman Henry Dimbleby led that effort. Yesterday’s announcement was the government’s response. The focus of the new government plan is to keep prices down and production up. They stripped out provisions intended to address obesity and environmental concerns.

Environmental Concerns

The Dimbleby proposal for a national food strategy was not especially bold on environmental proposals. But it did include a goal to cut meat consumption by 30 percent. That didn’t make the cut. In fact, the government plan aims to sustain production levels. Professor Dominic Moran says this is a serious mistake:

“The failure to offer guidance on moderating meat consumption flies in the face of just about every bit of relevant research on the design of diets for planetary health.”

Kath Dalmeny is Chief Executive for Sustain. They advocate for sustainable agriculture. She found little to like in this new strategy:

“This isn’t a strategy. It’s a feeble to-do list, that may or may not get ticked.”

Fallback to Personal Responsibility

Maybe it should be no surprise. But the fallback on obesity to clichés about personal responsibility is really disappointing. That’s because it neatly blames people for their health problems. Meanwhile, it removes any incentive for industry or government to work on making things better.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot says obesity is “terribly challenging,” but the Dimbleby proposal was a decent attempt to address it. He suggests that we need food systems that promote health instead of chronic diseases:

“None of us wants the government telling us what we have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But we’re pretty pleased when we turn on the tap and the water is drinkable. We don’t want to have to contact a helpline first.

“If we are all making individual choices, how come obesity rates are rising? Is each of us making this individual choice?”

Falling Off the Wagon

Two years ago, the Prime Minister got religion on obesity. His near-death experience with COVID made him a believer in taking action to reduce this risk factor. Today, that memory has faded. This is the natural life cycle of the personal responsibility model for obesity. It doesn’t hold up.

Click here for the government’s new food strategy document. For further perspective, click here, here, and here.

The Farm at Evening, painting by Henri-Edmond Cross / WikiArt

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June 14, 2022

2 Responses to “UK Food Policy: Volume First, Not the Planet or Health”

  1. June 14, 2022 at 8:34 am, Allen Browne said:

    I think food gets a bum rap. It’s not the food, it’s what your body does with the food. How is your energy regulation system working – toward health or not. People with out obesity eat food. People with food insecurity develop obesity. We know the system is there, but we are just beginning to figure it out.

    Have a good day! Enjoy your food.


  2. June 14, 2022 at 9:14 am, Angie Golden said:

    I love this “lost religion” reference. What a sad state of affairs. So glad I read the comment by Dr. Browne. I plan to use the quote “It’s what the body does with the food”. Great quote!