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Living Healthier and Longer: The Role of Food


Food is a significant driver of health and well-being and is essential to population health.[1] The quality, adequacy and accessibility of healthy food and healthy eating behaviours are critical to individual and community health and well-being and are vital factors in addressing health inequities. Although the diet people eat is an immediate link to health, the broader food system in its current form – aspects of food policy, production, provision, and disposal – also has a range of negative impacts on the environment and the climate, children’s development and academic achievement, and a range of other influences which in turn create poor health[2],6. These interwoven aspects of the food system[3] are critical influences on health, ill-health, and societal differences. [4]

FPH work and policy position

The UK urgently needs to deliver robust food system transformation to address the current combination of economic and eco-system stresses, whilst protecting and improving population health.[1] Issues of population level diet quality, food insecurity, environmental damage and impact on the climate – where population health and food policy intersect – are core public health priorities.

An area of concern for FPH is ultra-processed foods, which comprise a high proportion of foods eaten in the UK, displacing foods known to promote good health, especially for children and adolescents. FPH supports policies aimed at increasing consumption of foods known to support good health (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins),[2] as well as policies which support a shift to more sustainable diets.[3] FPH supports the universal provision of school meals, which significantly benefit children’s health, development and academic achievement.[4] Strategic planning and strategy related to these food issues should be led by a specific public health organisation focussed on the health and wellbeing of society.[5] The goal is to ensure an adequate, sustainable, and nutritious food supply is accessible to individuals across all sections of society and economy.[6] We will continue to clarify and advocate for necessary improvements across all areas of the food system.[7]

Current and proposed policies in the UK

The UK has taken some useful steps to improve people’s health, such as through action on sugar consumption and food reformulation, but there is more to do. There are continuing concerns about the targeting of unhealthy foods to children and young people, the environmental sustainability of our food supply, and the accessibility of a healthy diet by all parts of society. More must be done for the UK to create a food system which is secure and sustainable. It is crucial to meet the health and wellbeing needs of the population while remaining within the ecological boundaries of the planet in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – many of which point to the importance of changing the food system.[1]

FPH policy recommendations

  1. Action to reduce diet and diet-related health and wellbeing inequalities, with particular attention to food insecurity and the needs of particular groups, including school-aged children and adolescents.
  2. Provision of additional resources and a more substantial role for local government in the governance and provision of food at the local level in both crisis and ‘regular’ times.
  3. A strategic plan for shifting our population to a healthier and more sustainable dietary pattern, including a clear definition of what a healthy, sustainable diet means and policy drivers across all levels of government to support this shift.
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FPH is the professional home for public health in the UK and abroad. We support over 5,000 members across all career stages enabling them to drive the profession forward and achieve our vision of improving public health.

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