Turning the Tables: Making healthy choices easier for consumers

Turning the Tables, a new report exploring public attitudes towards healthy eating, has found that the food market in the UK is not working for consumers, with too many in the UK facing significant barriers to eating healthy diets.

The report is calling on the Government to build on their strategy to tackle obesity by investing in a new transformative Food and Agriculture Sector Deal. A new Sector Deal would accelerate research and development in reformulating food on a much greater scale than seen before, to make them healthier and more cost-effective for consumers.

From our survey, the report estimates that 20 million adults cannot afford healthy foods in the UK, and that 19 million cannot find healthy foods available in shops close to their home. The research also finds that the British public are in favour of more interventionist policies to tackle unhealthy eating. Almost three quarters of people (71%) would support government subsidies that make healthy foods cheaper.

The report also finds:

  • The three main drivers that consumers say push them towards unhealthy foods are: taste (43%), cost (34%) and ease (34%). 
  • The majority (59%) of people would support requiring all grocery shops to stock healthy foods.
  • Just under half (45%) of people would support standardised packaging on unhealthy foods – similar to approaches taken on cigarette packaging. 
  • A further four in ten (43%) would support banning unhealthy foods on public transport and slightly fewer (37%) would support banning foods in public places.

As well as major food innovation, the report recommends:

  • The Government should introduce a levy on nitrite-cured processed meats, which the World Health Organisation have linked directly to bowel cancer.
  • The Government should launch a new fund for the development of lab-grown meat or meat alternatives.
  • The Government should subsidise healthy foods that are already low in price, such as tins of tomatoes, carrots and frozen vegetables to make healthy options much cheaper.
  • The Government should work with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to change the packaging of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), modelled on the packaging changes made to tobacco goods, to make them less appealing to consumers.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Rose Lasko-Skinner, Researcher at Demos and Turning the Tables author said:

“Boris Johnson’s strategy to crackdown on obesity is a welcome step in the right direction. But it doesn’t go far enough in tackling root causes of obesity – many of which lie in our food sector, rather than with retailers. Our research shows there is an opportunity for the Government to be even bolder, and pioneers for a new era of food innovation.

“By stimulating groundbreaking innovation in the food sector, the Government could make food healthier, more affordable and provide better choices for consumers, whilst supporting the workforce in the recovery from Covid-19. With the political will to make it happen, it has the potential to transform the health of people in Britain from all walks of life.

Former Health Secretary Lord Lansley welcomes the push for “reformulations which consumers will tolerate, and shifting the balance of affordability away from energy-dense, processed foods” in his foreword for the report.

Read the full report here.

Read the full poll results here.