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The Broken Plate 2023

The State of the Nation’s Food System

Our food environment: vital signs, its impact on our lives and what needs to change to support us all to eat healthily and sustainably

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The Broken Plate 2023 Digital Summary

(Please note: this is not the full report. For the full report click here).


Food is an intrinsic part of all of our lives. It fuels our bodies and minds, providing us with the energy we need to move, think, work and reach our full potential. It can also be a source of pleasure and enjoyment: cooking and eating brings people together, building relationships across families, friends and communities. It can keep us healthy and well-nourished, boosting our wellbeing and helping us enjoy life to the fullest. A strong food system can underpin a strong society, having a profound impact on the nation’s health, happiness and overall prosperity. Sustainably producing our food can shape our countryside and landscapes, boosting biodiversity and regenerating wildlife. Our food system can be instrumental in positively shaping our nation and our lives. 

However, the current food system is not serving us well. For many, food is a source of anxiety and misery, with over a third of people reporting trying to lose weight most of the time. Affordability challenges have meant that for many the basic need to nourish ourselves has become fraught with stress. ‘Climate anxiety’ is now affecting two thirds of people in the UK, and the food system is a significant contributor to climate change (a third of greenhouse gas emissions come from the food system). What we eat has become the biggest risk factor for preventable disease, taking a massive toll on our health, causing debilitating illness and placing an unsustainable strain on the NHS. This is not a result of individual failure – not a lack of will power nor a shortage of knowledge – but rather the consequence of a food system which traps us into eating in a way that is harmful to our health and harmful to our planet. For people with limited time and money, breaking free from this trap is an even greater challenge. 

Food companies are also trapped in this system: they are required to sell us more and more food to generate greater profits for their investors. Tight competition to maximise market share creates an economic imperative to sell us foods that are cheap to produce and have the greatest profit margins – but these are the same foods that are making us unwell.

The food system was not always this way. Following the second world war, innovations in farming created a food system that could produce and sell us the most calories at the lowest cost, fulfilling the need that existed at the time. In doing so we have created another set of problems – mass producing cheap foods that cause disease and damage the environment. But this shows us that with innovative thinking, changing the system to adapt to our shifting needs is possible. 

This year’s Broken Plate report assesses eight key metrics which provide an indication of the state of our food environment and demonstrate how difficult it is to eat healthily and sustainably when the affordability, availability and appeal of unhealthy and unsustainable foods point us in the opposite direction. The impact of this on what we eat is shown in two metrics assessing the quality of our diets, and the subsequent impact on our health is shown in five further metrics. Together these metrics paint a picture of where we are now and critical next steps for ensuring we can all eat well.

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Price and Affordability

Affordability plays a major role in determining the food that people purchase. The ability to afford a healthy and sustainable diet is not only affected by food prices, but also by a family’s or individual’s income, and the costs of other essentials. For many people, a healthy and sustainable diet is simply out of reach financially; even for people on slightly higher incomes, it can be less appealing because it’s the more expensive option.

Affordability of a healthy diet ​​

The most deprived fifth of the population would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to meet the cost of the Government recommended healthy diet. This compares to just 11% for the least deprived fifth.

What needs to happen? Ensure everyone can afford to eat a healthy diet.

Cost of Healthy Food

More healthy foods are over twice as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods.

What needs to happen? Rebalance the cost of food so healthy options are the most affordable.

Cost of Sustainable Alternatives

More sustainable plant-based alternatives to chicken are approximately 27% more expensive than chicken breast.

What needs to happen? Ensure that price isn’t a barrier to choosing more sustainable and healthy options, especially for people on low incomes.

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The ease with which people can access healthy and sustainable foods is an important factor in determining what they eat. People are understandably more likely to eat food which is convenient and readily available. This is important across all settings where people spend time eating or buying food, including high streets, restaurants, takeaway outlets, school canteens and supermarkets.

Places to buy healthy foods

1 in 4 places to buy food are fast-food outlets.


What needs to happen? Use local authority planning powers to prevent further proliferation of unhealthy fast-food outlets.

Availability of low sugar options in key children's food categories

Only 7% of breakfast cereals and 8% of yogurts marketed to children are low in sugar.


What needs to happen? Reformulate products with too much sugar and stop marketing unhealthy food to children. 

Business transparency on sales of healthy and sustainable foods

Just 8 major UK food retailers, caterers and restaurant chains currently report publicly on sales of healthy foods, fruit and vegetables, or animal vs plant-based proteins.

What needs to happen? Increase transparency around the types of food businesses sell, with targets for boosting sales of healthy and sustainable foods. 

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Advertising and marketing influence people’s perceptions of foods and food brands, which in turn affect what and how much people eat. People are often unaware of how pervasive these tactics are and the extent to which they unconsciously drive them towards foods which can damage their health.

Marketing of Baby and Toddler Snacks

97% of snacks marketed towards babies and toddlers feature a nutritional or health claim on the front of the packaging despite often being high in sugar for this age group

What needs to happen? Regulate marketing and composition of toddler and baby foods, and restrict nutrition and health claims on the front of packaging.

Advertising Spend on Food

A third (33%) of food and soft drink advertising spend goes towards confectionery, snacks, desserts and soft drinks compared to just 1% for fruit and vegetables.

What needs to happen? Increase advertising spend on healthy foods and decrease advertising spend on less healthy foods

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Diet Quality

The affordability, availability and appeal of healthy foods relative to unhealthy foods create the food environments which influence what people choose to eat. The quality of diets in the UK is therefore reflective of whether the food system is set up to support citizens to eat healthily and sustainably.

Nutritious food consumption

The most deprived fifth of adults consume less fruit and veg (37% less), oily fish (54% less) and dietary fibre (17% less) than the least deprived fifth.


Ultra-processed foods consumption

56% of calories consumed by older children and adults are from ultra-processed foods.

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Health Outcomes

Inadequate nutrition resulting from poor food environments has implications for the health of children and adults, wider society and the planet. 

Children's Dental Decay

Almost a quarter (24%) of 5-year-olds have dental decay, with 2.5 times as many children in the most deprived fifth affected compared with the least deprived fifth.

Children's Growth

Children in the most deprived tenth of the population are on average up to 1.3cm shorter than children in the least deprived tenth by age 10–11.

Children’s weight

Children in the most deprived fifth of the population are over twice as likely to be living with obesity as those in the least deprived fifth by their first year of school

Healthy life expectancy

Healthy life expectancy in the most deprived tenth of the population is 19 years lower for women and 18 years lower for men than in the least deprived tenth.

Diabetes-related amputations

Nearly 9,600 diabetes-related amputations are carried out on average per year – an increase of 19% in six years.

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Conclusion: Feeding our country’s potential

The findings from the report show us that too often people do not have the financial resources to buy the food they need, the food that is available is not nutritionally adequate, and the food that is marketed to us is detrimental to our health. The odds are stacked against us. The widening of health inequalities due to the impact of our food environments is undermining our nation’s strength and resilience, and is generally worse than many other comparable countries. Our diets are weakening our health, our educational achievement, our labour force, our economy, our healthcare system, our environment and our wellbeing. To resolve this, we need to reorientate the food system and shift our food culture so the healthiest options are affordable, available and appealing. Only with these changes can we ensure that everyone, regardless of income or background, can eat nourishing food that promotes health and wellbeing and delivers wider societal benefits.

Beliefs that developing obesity is a personal failure and that responsibility for improving the nation’s health lies with individuals are simplistic, out of touch and not evidence-based. The metrics in this report demonstrate how the food environment restricts and manipulates our choices. Increasingly it is being recognised that social and commercial determinants of health are in fact much greater drivers of poor diets than lack of knowledge. Rather than ‘nannying’ citizens, government intervention to improve food environments can empower people to make genuine choices. Such interventions would help prevent the need for more invasive and drastic measures like weight loss surgery or lifelong appetite-suppression medication. The spectacular failure of policy after policy focused on individual responsibility shows that policies to transform our food environments (by increasing the affordability, availability and appeal of healthy food) offer a much smarter approach for policymakers seeking to improve the nation’s health.

The food system has changed before and it can change again. A better system is within our reach if everyone chooses to make it happen. We all have a role to play in creating the country in which we want to live, and in creating the food system we want to feed us – from policymakers to food businesses, local authorities to investors and citizens. We need strong leadership to move us towards a shared vision of a better food future.

The upcoming election is an important opportunity for policymakers to rise to the challenge and step up their ambition. By recognising the importance of the food system in shaping our nation and its power to improve our health and wealth, they can carve a path towards a future where food is a source of positivity and prosperity for all.

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