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The Food Foundation is the first independent body to provide answers to these problems with the food consumer in mind, rather than the manufacturer, producer or retailer.

Food system challenges

Our recent analysis shows that the food environment makes it too difficult for typical British families to choose a healthy diet.

  • Healthy foods are three times more expensive than unhealthy foods
  • Families spend nearly a fifth (18%) of their budget on food but throw away the equivalent of 6 meals per week
  • Highly processed foods which can be damaging to health make up over half the diet of typical families.
  • Almost all a child’s daily sugar allowance are contained in one UK brand leading yoghurt, yet is cheaper than a plain natural yoghurt.
  • Advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt is unregulated and widespread during family TV viewing times and through the internet.
  • The number of places to eat out has grown by more than 50% over the last 10 years but many serve unhealthy meals.

Over half of adults are overweight and obese, 5% have diabetes and one third of 5 year olds have tooth decay.  The UK has the 3rd highest rates of obesity in the EU.  Rates are still increasing.

the poorest 10% of households only purchase 3.2 portions of fruit and vegetables per day

Our diets are too high in saturated fat and sugar and too low in fibre, notably fruit and vegetables.  There is a very significant wealth gradient in consumption of fruit and vegetables – the poorest 10% of households only purchase 3.2 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

In the UK we spend among the least in the world for our food and an average household throws away the equivalent of 6 meals a week.  And yet there is growing evidence of severe food poverty.  A representative survey conducted by Ipsos-MORI in London in 2013 reported that 8% of parents reported that at some point in the last year their children have had to skip meals because they cannot afford to buy food.

We buy two thirds of our food at supermarkets and the rest we eat out – we’re eating out more and more which in turn is putting pressure on retailers.  The supermarket industry is highly competitive, with 5 companies having 80% of the market share.  The pressure on price is forcing producers to scale-up to capture greater efficiencies.  Animal welfare, conservation and labour standards are all areas where efficiencies are pursued.  Supply chains are typically becoming more integrated with a smaller number of companies in control of the whole supply chain. Highly processed food which uses lower quality ingredients, has a longer shelf life and delivers higher margins is contributing to more than 60% of our calorie intake. Even though the food industry in Britain is highly efficient 4.3 million tons of food is wasted in the supply chain.

If our diets met dietary standards the green house gas emissions from our food would drop by 17%.

Agriculture currently accounts for a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. The diet we choose and the farming practices which we use have a huge impact on the environment.  If our diets met dietary standards the green house gas emissions from our food would drop by 17%.   Huge reductions in our carbon footprint could be achieved through eating less meat.

Global demand for food will increase by 60% by 2050 – a need which will be largely met by intensification of farming including increasing food grown for animal feed.  Climate change means that weather-related shocks are increasing which means that harvest failures will be more frequent with knock-on effects on world food prices.  Creating greater resilience in the food system is a political priority to avoid excessive price volatility.

These conflicting pressures on the food system and the extent of poor health outcomes, the need for government leadership  and coherent food policy which acts across the food system is more important than ever.