Two thirds of adults are overweight or obese in the UK, with a recent study finding that 19% of people in the country are eating more ready meals and processed foods because it’s cheaper than buying ‘real’ ingredients.
Our cost of living crisis is exacerbating issues within our food system, making it harder for more and more people to access real food and nutrition. As global events such as the pandemic, Ukraine war, and Brexit, force our food prices up (by 20% in the past 12 months), the lure of cheap, processed food is greater than ever.
High-calorie, low cost food is helping many people get from one day to the next in desperate times — but it’s also making our nation sick, leading to higher rates of obesity and disease, and costing the NHS around £6.5 billion a year.
With time and cost being so prohibitive when it comes to eating well, campaigners, health professionals, and public figures are taking an increasingly active role in championing better diet choices among the UK population.
Here are some of the famous faces and key charities helping drive change…
Jamie Oliver MBE
Essex-born chef Jamie Oliver has been a long-standing proponent of improving children’s diets, since launching his ‘Feed Me Better’ campaign back in 2005. He’s inspired millions with his simple, healthy dishes, over 30 cookbooks, more than 50 TV shows (including ‘Food Revolution’ which he took to the US) and supports a number of causes through his online platforms.
In 2022, Jamie demonstrated his passion and activism for the cause of children’s nutrition by taking to the streets of London. He was so incensed by the government’s U-turn on its anti-obesity strategy (which included banning shop deals on unhealthy foods) that he led a protest at Downing Street which rallied a huge turnout of supporters and got the nation talking.
Food writer, journalist and food poverty activist Jack Monroe has been a great asset in this space, having risen to prominence with her Cooking on a Bootstrap blog (previously named ‘A Girl Called Jack’).
She’s since released a number of austerity-based cookbooks to inspire those living on a tight budget, such as ‘Tin Can Food’, ‘Good Food for Bad Days’ and ‘Thrifty Kitchen’.
Jack has also been the driving force behind establishing a new price index, the Vimes Boots Index (VBI), which shone a light on the greater cost of poverty and its socioeconomic disadvantages.
Marcus Rashford MBE and chef Tom Kerridge
England football star Marcus Rashford has been a huge force for good, using his profile to successfully campaign for an extension to the Free School Meals scheme throughout the pandemic. He subsequently set up the ‘Child Food Poverty Task Force‘ in collaboration with several UK food shops, manufacturers, charities and delivery companies.
In 2021, Marcus joined forces with Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge to offer simple recipes and tutorials to help families create healthy meals.
Through their Full Time Meals social media channels (@fulltimemeals), they inspire thousands of people to cook at home and make easy, healthy meals on a limited budget.
Dr Chris Van Tulleken
Doctor, academic and broadcaster Dr Chris van Tulleken, whose book ‘Ultra-Processed People’ shot to the top of The Sunday Times Bestseller list earlier this year, has been sharing his learnings around food manufacturing processes and ultra-processed food to drive greater awareness and encourage healthier food choices.
Chris has also just launched a new podcast, ‘Fed with Chris van Tulleken‘, with the first series, ‘Planet Chicken’, investigating the stories behind one of the most widely eaten meats on earth, and what it means for our bodies and the planet.
Dr Alan Desmond
Fellow medic, Dr Alan Desmond, who is a gastroenterologist and author, uses his large social media following (140k on Instagram) to spread knowledge and expertise on plant-based nutrition and gut health — alongside articles, podcasts, and through speaking at international conferences.
As a gut health expert, he specialises in the role diet plays in the prevention and treatment of digestive diseases, and the overall health benefits of a whole-food, plant-centric approach to nutrition.
There are thousands of charities and food banks across the country supplying meals and offering support in the way of diet and nutrition, and through having direct contact with those in need, day to day, their role in education is huge.
Feeding Britain is an award-winning charity that supports a national network of 80 regional and local anti-hunger partnerships.
Their ‘Affordable Food Clubs‘ — which take different forms, from social supermarkets and pantries to food buses — puts them at the heart of communities, where they offer nutritious food and essentials for a fraction of their retail value. It also allows them to provide face-to-face financial advice and tips to help people stretch their weekly budgets.
The Food Foundation is another charity with a wealth of educational resources and initiatives. They aim to improve diets across the country by increasing vegetable consumption.
Through the Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, and their ‘Veg Advocates’ scheme, they are enabling better access to fresh produce, and finding creative ways to get people closer to natural foods within their communities.
They have also been pushing for change within supermarkets and retailers, including reducing prices of healthy foods and introducing promotions around them — to make the healthiest options most affordable.
Their initiative ‘Kids Food Guarantee‘ is a new roadmap of actions that calls on retailers to guarantee that children can eat well during the cost of living crisis and prevent lasting damage to their health.
Keen to learn more?
Explore more on the UK’s food and drink industry — the country’s largest manufacturing sector — and innovations within our food systems, in ITN Business’ upcoming programme, ‘Food and Drink: Powers Our Nation‘.
Premiering at IFE – International Food & Drink Event on the 25th to 27th March, 2024, the programme will showcase innovations that are making nutritious food accessible for all.
It will be hosted by renowned chef and presenter Monica Galetti, and feature thought leaders from the industry, including The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST).