29 Jul 2020

Today (July 29) Henry Dimbleby published the first part of his semi-independent National Food Strategy. Mr Dimbleby was tasked with undertaking the review in 2019, but COVID-19 has delayed the publication of this first part. Part Two is expected to be published in mid-2021. Read Part One here

Henry Dimbleby’s first report gives an eye-opening account of the impact that COVID-19 has had upon our food sector, our eating habits and our health. It also highlights what dietitians and many others have known for some time – that we need to significantly improve our nation’s food system and diet.

There is a great deal not included within this first report, but that is clearly by design, with the focus being on COVID-19 and Brexit. We will need much more from the full strategy. We hope Mr Dimbleby and the wider review panel will use the next phase as an opportunity to engage with and draw on the expertise of dietitians on key issues of nutrition and health. We expect that his fuller report will consider the role dietitians have to play in managing some of the issues he has highlighted in this interim document.

Malnutrition, obesity, food poverty and many of the other challenges within or as a result of our food system existed long before COVID-19 or Brexit. We need fundamental change to our food system. We welcome Mr Dimbleby’s assurance that part 2 of the review, to be published in 2021, will include a root to branch evaluation of our food system, and we agree that its recommendations should be comprehensive, multi-layered and evidence-informed. This action is long overdue, now urgent and needs to lead to a fundamental shift in how we handle our responsibilities to our nation. We cannot continue to have a system that simultaneously makes so many of us ill while leaving so many of us with too little to eat.

It is pleasing to see clear recommendations on expanding the Free School Meals, the Holiday Activity and Food programme and in particular the Healthy Start voucher scheme in England. There is clearly more that could be done to support children, mothers and families in the early years, in particular regarding support for breastfeeding, which we hope will be a key part of the next document.

We welcome the clear recommendations on protecting the UK’s food standards and public health during Brexit trade negotiations. We strongly advise the government to take these ideas on board, and open up their negotiations to much greater scrutiny.

It is disappointing to see a lack of person-centred language in reference to people living with obesity. It is positive to see a recognition of the multi-faceted nature of obesity and the need to change many areas, and not just focus on individual responsibility.

This interim report makes some important recommendations, but mostly serves to set out the scale of the challenge we face. The UKs dietitians are a key tool for meeting these challenges. The full National Food Strategy must recognise that.

News

Author

Caroline Bovey

Chair, British Dietetic Association