24 Jun 2020

Dr Giles Yeo, as President of the British Dietetic Association, has spoken out today following DEFRA’s publication of its plan to help the UK food sector “Bounce Back” after COVID-19.

His urgent plea to the UK government asks them to clarify how it will ensure that Brexit does not exacerbate the existing challenges of food insecurity and health inequalities in the UK, and explain how it will address these challenges.

Dr Yeo said; “The UK, sadly, has a significant problem with both food insecurity and health inequality, highlighted by the recent statistics revealing that nearly five million adults in the UK have been rendered food insecure by COVID-19, with almost a fifth of UK homes with children going hungry in lockdown.

“The stark reality of health inequalities was shown in PHE’s report on the impact of COVID-19, with people from BAME or poorer backgrounds at much greater risk than the population as a whole. Dietitians see this impact every day in their work with children, adults and the elderly.

“If the UK exits the EU with no-deal on the 31st Dec 2020, it will only exacerbate these problems. Impacts include increased food prices or reduced availability of certain products, as well as lowering of standards that threatens to create a two-tier food system.

“In all cases, the poorest and most food insecure will feel the greatest impact.

 “COVID-19 has already laid bare the weaknesses of the Government’s planning and policy around food.

“We need urgent reassurance that the government has a plan to step in, should needs be, to ensure nobody struggles to access the food and drink in the UK as a result of food insecurity, poverty, or Brexit (whatever form it takes).

“We need urgent reassurance that the government will not allow trade deals to degrade our food standards, which would disproportionately impact the poorest in society.

“And we need support from government to ensure everyone who needs it can access dietetic support.”

Clear food strategy

Caroline Bovey, BDA Chair, joined Dr Yeo in calling on the government to put in place solid plans to prevent food insecurity and guarantee access to a high-quality diet.

“The recent announcement by DEFRA provides lots of support for the UKs food exporters, but doesn’t put in place any additional plans to guarantee safe imports which we rely on heavily for food.

“We must have a clear food strategy, with contingency plans in place to ensure that food does not become unaffordable and make food poverty worse.”

Two-tier system

Sue Meredith, Chair of BDA Paediatric Group and a Clinical Lead for Paediatric Dietetics at Birmingham Community Healthcare trust has first-hand experience of the impact that food insecurity and poverty on children and young people

“We know poverty and food insecurity leads to poor micro nutrient intakes and also over consumption of high fat and high sugar foods which tend to be cheaper and easier to prepare.

“Disruption to food supplies would also be keenly felt by children and young people with complex needs. Paediatric Dietitians across the UK care for children who need to follow restricted diets and source specific types of foods for their medical needs.

“We saw in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that the families of such children struggled to obtain the foods they need on a daily basis. We cannot see this repeated. Vulnerable children would also be amongst the worst hit by any two-tier system when cheaper foods were of poorer quality.”

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