POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Barriers to Healthy Food

Published Wednesday, May 4, 2016

This briefing reviews current diets and barriers to healthy food including price, marketing, skills and location. It then outlines current initiatives to improve diets.

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British diets include insuffient fruit and vegetables, fibre and oily fish, and too much added sugar, salt and saturated fats. The average British adult consumes:

  • 4.1 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Children consume around 3. 5 or more a day is recommended.
  • An estimated 18 g a day of fibre, compared to the recommended 30 g a day.
  • 8.1 g of salt per day, compared to the 6 g maximum. 80% of men and 58% of women exceed the guidelines, as do most children.
  • 12% of their energy from sugar compared to the recommended 5%.

Lower levels of income and education are associated with less healthy diets. While diet is a problem for the population as a whole, there are also several potential barriers to healthy food that are more prounced for these groups. Economic barriers include food prices and food insecurity, while physical barriers include the availability of unhealthy food. 

There are numerous opportunities to improve diets including education, improving school meals, reformulating food and restricting portion size and regulating advertising for unhealthy food. Evidence suggests there is no single best approach, but a range of potential strategies that may improve diet.  

Acknowledgements

POST would like to thank the following interviewees for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing:

  • Dr Jean Adams, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Simon Capewell, University of Liverpool
  • Professor Martin Caraher, City University London
  • Professor Steve Cummins, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Department of Health
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport
  • Professor Elizabeth Dowler, University of Warwick
  • Dr Charlotte Evans, University of Leeds
  • Kate Halliwell, Food and Drink Federation
  • Professor Corinna Hawkes, City University London
  • Professor Theresa Marteau, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Pablo Monsivais, University of Cambridge
  • Michael Nelson, PHN Research
  • Tarra Penney, University of Cambridge
  • Ben Reynolds, Sustain
  • Paul Sacher, MEND
  • Anna Taylor, The Food Foundation
  • Alison Tedstone, Public Health England
  • Professor Martin White, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Wendy Wrieden, Newcastle University

POSTnotes POST-PN-0522

Authors: Jane Tinkler; Joseph Ritchie

Topics: Central government, Children and families, Health education and preventive medicine, Local government

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.