Excess weight and obesity is costing the UK £74bn every year in direct NHS costs, lost workforce productivity and reduced life expectancy, a major report on food has argued, calling for an urgent overhaul of our food system as a result.
The 2022 ‘Broken Plate’ report from The Food Foundation has warned that obesity is now one of the main factors in the 20-year gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest members of society.
One in five households would have to spend almost half their disposable income on food to achieve the government’s recommended healthy diet, leaving little money for energy and other household bills, the report highlighted.
By contrast, the wealthiest fifth of the population would need to spend just 11% of their disposable income.
On current trends, more than 80% of children born in 2022 who survive to the age of 65 will be overweight or obese. At least one in 20 of them will already have died, the report funded by the Nuffield Foundation has warned.
Obesity in children had risen by 50% in the past year alone, and children with obesity are more likely to grow up to have diet-related disease. Obesity adversely affects ability to learn in school, self-esteem and physical and mental health, it added.
More widely, poor nutrition is causing stunted growth. British five-year-olds are shorter than five-year-old populations of our European neighbours with significant height variation between poor and wealthy areas within this country, the foundation said.
Obesity and work
Life-limiting amputations caused by the complications of diabetes linked to obesity have reached record levels, affecting quality of life and placing a huge burden on our healthcare system and the wider economy.
Healthy nutritious food is nearly three times more expensive than ‘obesogenic’ unhealthy products, with more healthy foods costing an average of £8.51 for 1,000 calories compared to just £3.25 for 1,000 calories of less healthy foods.
Even before the current cost of living crisis, between 2021 and 2022 healthier foods became even more expensive, increasing in price by an average of 5.1% compared with 2.5% for the least healthy foods, the foundation also warned.
Anna Taylor, executive director at The Food Foundation, said: “This report provides the strongest evidence to date of the worsening crisis affecting our food system and the health of the UK population. It is vital that the incoming prime minister takes urgent action to address the issues raised by the National Food Strategy with the development of a new plan for primary legislation.”
Catherine Dennison, welfare programme head at the Nuffield Foundation, added: “The cost of living crisis is putting additional pressure on families with low incomes who were already struggling to afford a healthy diet.
“The Broken Plate provides stark evidence of how dietary inequalities in the UK are impacting on people’s health. We support The Food Foundation’s call for a comprehensive policy and practice response from government and industry if we are to improve people’s health and wellbeing, including for the youngest children in our society.”