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12 August 2020

As many as 20 million UK adults are unable to afford healthy food, report says

Cost and availability are key barriers to a balanced diet, research has found.

By Rohan Banerjee

Up to 20 million adults across the United Kingdom are unable to afford to eat healthily, which is undermining the government’s latest anti-obesity initiative, according to a new report.

The UK government recently introduced a raft of measures to try and curtail the country’s weight problem, including a ban on TV or online adverts for high-fat food before 9pm, and an end to promotional “buy one get one free” deals on food high in salt, sugar and fat.

But Turning the tables, a report produced by the think tank Demos, has highlighted “significant barriers” to people consuming a healthy diet. Demos stressed the point that the key to tackling obesity long-term came through food education, and not just price changes.

People need to be taught, the report said, about the contents and consequences of the food they eat. It accused the government of focusing too much on making unhealthy food more expensive – which could disadvantage low-income families – as opposed to making healthy food cheaper.

Demos has called for a “new sector deal” for the UK food market which would involve “reformulating” food content at its production stage, as well as updating pricing. For example, the report recommended introducing a levy on nitrite-cured meats, further investment in the research and development of lab-grown meat alternatives, and greater collaboration with the Food Standards Agency to update food packaging with more detailed information.

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Demos’s research found that as well as an estimated 20 million people who could not afford healthy food, around 19 million were unable to even find healthy food available in a shop near to their home.

British people are generally in favour of a more interventionist approach to tackling obesity, according to the report. The majority (71 per cent) of participants in Demos’s research said that they would support the government investing in subsidies to make healthier food more affordable.