The report identifies a wide range of measures which would help improve population dietary patterns, and urges government to take their duties seriously - claiming that the benefits that can be gained from simply meeting existing government guidance on diet and nutrition, in terms of reduced premature deaths and reduced ill health, amount to preventing more than 69,000 deaths per year and gaining more than 650,000 improved years of life.
“We have identified 200 opportunities for taking a grip on UK food supplies and helping consumers, especially those on lower incomes, to make healthier choices,” said Coronary Prevention Group chair of trustees, Professor Philip James. “From better public food services to investment in research, from fast food menus to food company contracts, government can and must play a critical role in shaping the quality, availability and pricing of our food.”
The report urges greater use of techniques such as nutrient profiling to evaluate and assess the likely impact of all government policies, and identifies examples of projects that undermine good health because they were not subjected to such tests.
Indeed, the report claims that the use of £86,472 of public funds to help companies make confectionery wafer biscuits, and £637,812 to help a company improve its chocolate blending equipment, are examples of government grants that actively go against its own diet and nutrition advice.
"Some of these grants are greater than the amounts spent by local health services tackling overweight in adults and children," said James. "And there are anomalies with the application of VAT – table salt is zero-rated, so are cake-mixes and drinking chocolates, but you have to pay standard rate VAT on roast almonds, dried fruit and mineral water, even though these are much better for you."
The report calls for joined up policies on health, and urges a root and branch analysis of government policies and their impact on health.
‘The government has stated its support for ‘health in all policies’ but we have seen little evidence that it is taking this seriously,’ claimed James. "As the parties line up for an election, we need to know where they stand and what they will do."
Nutrient profiling potential
While some specific applications of nutrient profiling are already in use, the report suggests that there is ‘great scope’ for further, and more powerful, applications of nutrient profiling to affect food consumption patterns and resulting health.
Speaking at the Nutrition in Britain event in London, to mark the launch of the report, report co-author Karen McColl suggested that a wide array of UK government and international policies should be tested against a nutrient profiling tool to ensure that they do not encourage poor dietary choices or make foods with poor nutritional quality more widely available.
Indeed, she suggested that nutrient profiling tools could be used to improve the nutritional quality of foods that are served in public institutions.