On Tuesday 2 February, Sir David Amess chaired the Westminster Food & Nutrition Conference: next steps for reducing obesity in England. Sir David is the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Food and Health and so works with organisations and individuals to improve education about and access to healthy food and nutrition.
The online conference focused on Government strategy, active travel, healthy food environments, public messaging, and tackling inequalities. There were speakers from across the health industry, sport and the food and drink industry, including Dame Sarah Storey, the multiple gold medal winner Paralympic cyclist, and Jenny Rosborough, the Head of nutrition at Jamie Oliver.
In his opening remarks, Sir David Amess said:
Even though much of the world’s attention is on the Coronavirus pandemic and its effects on our lives, health issues that existed before the pandemic still exist today and will continue to do so unless we address them.
Obesity, whilst it doesn’t receive as much media attention as Coronavirus, is still one of the greatest long-term health challenges we face in the UK. NHS 2020 statistics show that 67% of men and 60% of women were classed as overweight or obese. Obesity does not just affect adults though; there are 1 in 3 children leaving primary school who are already overweight or living with obesity.
This virtual conference brings together professionals across the board in Government, public policy, the health industry and the food and drink industry who need to work together to combat the negative effects of obesity.
As the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Food and Health I am in regular contact with representatives across the health industry and political spectrum who have the ability to implement policy changes. The APPG’s main work covers the relationship between food, nutrition, health and the implications of these factors in key areas affecting health in the population. This, coupled with education from a young age of the importance of healthy food and nutrition, will improve the health of our population and reduce the strain on our NHS – which at a time which we find ourselves in currently during the pandemic is of ever-increasing importance.
In order to efficiently implement the Government’s obesity strategy, the root causes of obesity must be examined. That is why it is extremely important for there to be collaboration between manufacturers, the educational sector, the Government, health professionals and the food and drink industry. With specific targets and policies aimed at promoting physical exercise and helping people lose weight, people can enjoy longer, healthier lives.
As a result of the Prime Minister’s recovery from Coronavirus, we may now be about to witness a historic turning point in England’s approach to tackling obesity. Boris Johnson has explicitly acknowledged that the Coronavirus pandemic has increased the urgency of dealing with the challenge of obesity as evidence shows that obesity increases the risk of a person becoming seriously ill who has contracted Coronavirus.
I am pleased that the Government has introduced a childhood obesity plan which commits to the ambitious target of halving childhood obesity by 2030. However, obesity prevalence is highest amongst the most deprived groups in society. This is sowing the seeds of adult diseases and health inequalities in early childhood which should be addressed in the Government’s strategy.
I look forward to hearing the views of people here today on the Government’s proposals and the challenges they present.