Strong growth in free school meals urged to tackle food poverty crisis | Health

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Up to 1.5 million more children in England are expected to receive free school meals to fight a growing crisis of food poverty and unhealthy nutrition, according to a plan billed as the first national food strategy since war rationing .

The government-commissioned report also warns the climate crisis will be the source of the next food emergency, demands more than £ 2bn for farmers to improve the campaign, and condemns the labeling of fake-healthy foods by big brands – including the idea for “” Candy Marks & Spencer Percy Pig.

The author of the strategy, restaurant co-founder Leon Henry Dimbleby, said Covid-19 had highlighted serious economic, health and nutritional inequalities that are expected to be compounded by the economic fallout from the pandemic. He warned that “the wave of unemployment rushing towards us is likely to create a sharp increase in food insecurity and outright hunger.”

Offering a series of government interventions to boost the diets of the UK’s poorest families, he added: “In the post-lockout recession, many more families will struggle to feed themselves adequately. A government that takes “leveling” seriously must ensure that all children get the nutrition they need.

Poor nutrition was responsible for 90,000 deaths a year and cost the NHS £ 6 billion a year even before Covid-19. Dimbleby said hundreds of conversations and meetings have revealed broad public support for state intervention to improve diets, adding: “It seems clear that the state has the moral authority to intervene. in people’s lives to help them eat better, especially given the terrible costs of this diet. diseases related to our society.

The report, commissioned by former Environment Secretary Michael Gove in 2019, is an in-depth look at the country’s food system, from the dominance of supermarkets and the post-Brexit food supply to “the regime’s slow-motion disaster. British. And the rise of food banks.

It comes 48 hours after the launch of a government anti-obesity strategy that has been criticized for putting the blame on the shoulders of individuals instead of tackling structural inequalities.

Although Dimbleby concludes that the UK food system has held up well in what he called “its biggest stress test since World War II” amid panic buying, he warned there was was no room for complacency and that the next major food crisis was likely to occur shortages caused by climate change.

Brexit has offered the UK a unique chance to ensure high standards in food, husbandry and animal welfare, he said, recommending ministers introduce a system of guarantees for ensure that future trade deals do not open up UK markets to cheaper, inferior products.

“The deals we make today will shape the food system of the future, affecting everything from our farmers’ livelihoods to animal welfare and climate change. The question of how to conclude trade deals without lowering food standards must be addressed now before it is too late, ”the report said.

Covid-19 has revealed with “terrible clarity” the damage to the health of the nation from the food system, he said. The emergence of diet-related illnesses as a major risk factor for death from Covid-19 “has given new urgency to the UK diet’s idle disaster,” he said, promising to release the report. Next year more detailed ideas about the state could step in to improve the diet.

Dimbleby criticized brands and supermarkets for mislabeling sugar-filled products as healthy candy. This practice was rampant, he said, although he singled out popular M&S candies for particular reviews, saying, “I had a bug about Percy Pigs for a while. Percy Pigs is a candy marketed on the front with all-natural fruit juice and right next to your children’s little fingers and on the back [of the packet], if you understand calorie labeling, the first four ingredients are forms of sugar. I just don’t think it’s fair.

The report urges ministers to speed up the environmental land management program, which would pay UK farmers £ 2.4 billion a year to ensure they improve the countryside, encourage carbon capture and increase biodiversity.

Dimbleby, who co-wrote the school feeding plan for the government in 2013, proposed three “quick and relatively simple steps” to take to address the nutritional crisis facing the poorest children, noting that the food budget is often the first thing to cut hard. families.

They are:

  • An extension of free school meals to 1.5 million children over 7 to 16 years of age in households claiming universal credit. It is estimated that this will cost an additional £ 670million per year. According to the report, only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards of a school lunch.
  • A £ 200million nationwide expansion of currently state-funded holiday hunger programs in 16 townships reaching 50,000 children. About 3 million children are at risk of going hungry during school holidays, the report says.

  • An extension of the Healthy Start Fresh Fruit, Milk and Vegetable Voucher program for pregnant women, increasing its value and encouraging supermarkets to supplement the voucher with free fresh produce.

The report concludes that Covid-19 has reaffirmed “an important principle that in a crisis of this magnitude, the entire societal safety net must be strengthened.” However, he did not address the benefits or issues of low pay, telling reporters that “my job is big enough anyway without rethinking the benefit system.”

Dimbleby, whose father is presenter David Dimbleby, is due to publish a second part of the food strategy in 2021, taking a closer look at the issues of climate change and biosciences. The government has committed to respond in the form of a white paper six months after the publication of Part II.

Tim Lang, professor emeritus of food policy at City University of London, said: “This is a thoughtful report which recognizes that consumers with spotty information cannot cope with the power of the industry. This is the beginning of good.

Ben Reynolds, Deputy Managing Director of Food and Agriculture Campaigners Sustain, said: “We welcome this thoughtful and comprehensive view of what our food system looks like today, and the attention it is giving. to the urgent response needed to the coronavirus. ”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT principals’ union, said: “Free school meals ensure at least that hungry children at home get one nutritious meal a day during trimesters, which can be vital for their well-being and education. ”

A spokesperson for M&S said: “All of our products have clear labeling so that customers can make informed choices about what to buy. All of our Percy Pigs are made with natural fruit juices and free of artificial colors or flavors and last year we also launched a line of Percy Pigs with one third less sugar.

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