British kids’ diets the worst in Europe

Today at a meeting in Parliament with leading MPs from all parties, we will call on a new Action Plan for Good Food.

UK children face a double whammy of obesity and food insecurity making the UK the worst for overall diets across Europe.  We are calling for concerted, cross government action to deal with a time bomb that is already impacting children’s education attainment, and their current and long-term health.

 The facts about British children’s nutrition

  1. 10% of children start school obese.
  2. Children in the most deprived areas of Britain already experience twice the levels of obesity than children in the least deprived [1].
  3. 10% of children in households affected by severe food insecurity [2]
  4. Unhealthy foods are three times cheaper than healthy foods [3]

In the UK, we have the second highest rates of obesity in Europe.  Children living in the most deprived areas experience double the rates of obesity than those in the richest.  At the same time 10% of our children are living in households affected by severe food insecurity, where adults face periods when they struggle to put food on the table.  The highest levels in the whole of Europe. Many of these children’s parents have jobs.

The combination of low incomes, and a food system which makes unhealthy food more convenient, attractive and frequently cheaper than healthy food is toxic for children’s health.   It leads to overweight and obesity, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, poor child growth and development and damaged mental health.

The long summer holidays often make the situation even worse when 1.7 million children who would normally be entitled to a free healthy school meal go for 6 weeks without one.

Ultimately those affected by very poor diets are much more dependent on the NHS and are more likely to be much less productive at work with knock-on effects on the economy.

Today the we launch a new briefing paper in parliament calling for:

  • A Good Food National Action Plan: A new set of policies for Good Food from the government which puts public health goals at its heart.  The Action Plan needs to bring together a wide range of players from DEFRA, the NHS and Public Health England, industry, producers, civil society, schools and early years providers and parents groups to ensure a strong coherent implementation team.  The first priority must be an Agriculture Bill which purposively supports good, healthy food.
  • Measuring Food Insecurity: With so many families suffering from food insecurity – a problem that will only rise with rising inflation – it is crucial that, like other countries such as the United States, we measure food insecurity so that we assess whether the current and future measures are truly impacting families who are skipping meals and whose diets are truly bad for their health.
  • A clearer prioritisation of pregnancy and early years.  The first 1000 days of life are the most important for securing life-long good nutrition.  Currently food in pre-school settings is a clear policy gap. This needs immediate prioritisation to ensure that the next generation being born today do not get caught in this vortex of bad diets.
  • Learning from Others: Better engagement by the UK government (DFID plus Department of Health and DEFRA) in international action to tackle malnutrition globally so we are more accountable for our international commitments but also bring lessons from other countries to the UK.


Laura Sandys, former MP and Chair of the Food Foundation said:

“Britain must put good food back on the public policy table.  Getting the future of our food system on a better track should be a top government priority. The terrible situation of our children’s diets makes this an urgent priority, or we – and they – will be paying the price for generations to come.”

The UK is not alone in this challenge.  Poor diets are now the biggest risk to health globally and one in three people on our planet have some form of malnutrition.  The Food Foundation is looking to bring ideas and experience from other countries to help UK policy makers make headway on this challenge at home and to expand their leadership and accountability internationally.


Taken from new Food Foundation briefing paper to be published 4/7/2017

Read our new briefing paper – UK and Global Malnutrition:  the new normal

Read our policy briefing series designed to support international learning and a Global vision on food and nutrition policy:

The Brazil briefings were written by Jennifer Constantine, IDS.