Danone opinion

The National Food Strategy could transform young people’s diets

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Danone's McDonnell: 'We must recognise how interconnected food systems and planetary health are'
Danone's McDonnell: 'We must recognise how interconnected food systems and planetary health are'

Related tags Ingredients & nutrition

Part II of the National Food Strategy was published in July as part of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to break Britain’s addiction to junk food.

The focus on diets is directly linked with that of planetary health. There is no longer one without the other and empowering people to make healthier and more sustainable food choices is needed to make the report’s ambitions effective.

British businessman Henry Dimbleby’s report​ brings together all the sectors involved in our food system for the first time – from farming to Government procurement, education to industry and trade with four key strategic aims:

  1. Escape the junk food cycle to protect the NHS
  2. Reduce diet-related inequality
  3. Make the best use of our land
  4. Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Nutrition education

Points one, two and four shine a light on the importance of effective nutrition education and industry changes to create healthier and more sustainable long-term habits.

One of the report’s main recommendations was to introduce an ‘eat and learn’ initiative for schools, reasoning ‘eating well is much easier if you know how to cook from scratch’.

It notes that culinary skills and a focus on food and nutrition in schools have declined across every social class since convenience food became widely available. Since 2014, schools have been legally required to teach cookery and nutrition to all children up to the age of 14, but the Food Strategy has found this is not happening.

Food A-levels

The report recommends the reintroduction of food A-levels and a review of qualifications such as GCSEs to ensure enough focus on nutrition and routes to further education, all supported by funding from the government.

At Danone, we recognise the Food Strategy’s findings and believe it’s part of our responsibility as industry leaders to help provide this support and education for children.

In collaboration with the British Nutrition Foundation, and with support from the British Dietetic Association as well as sustainability experts Hubbub, we recently relaunched our updated ‘Eat like a Champ’​programme.

Eat Like a Champ

Designed to champion healthy, sustainable lifestyles in children aged 9-10, Eat Like A Champ offers teachers free, unbranded, and evidence-based resources linked to the school curriculum.

As well as nutrition, the programme covers sustainability topics such as climate change, recycling and food waste and aims to support teachers to educate and inspire the next generation.

The programme is based around the UK’s Eatwell Guide which offers visual guidance to help pupils develop their knowledge about healthy eating and how it is implemented.

Lower environmental impact

Analysis by The Carbon Trust, commissioned by Public Health England, reported diets in line with the Eatwell Guide would have a 32% lower environmental impact than the current average UK diet​. This approach helps teachers to inform children about how to eat well for their own health and for the health of the planet.

Bringing serious issues like climate change and nutrition into the classroom might seem daunting. However, learning about the relationship between our own health and the health of a planet at an early age is key to fostering good habits for later life.

Department of Health figures found more than a quarter of children aged 2-15 were either overweight or obese. Given the pressing issue of poor nutrition and childhood obesity in the UK, alongside the climate emergency and challenges to the global food system, we must recognise how interconnected food systems and planetary health are. 

For those in the food industry, the recommendations in the Strategy underline the importance of acting responsibly by helping to support young people to make healthy and sustainable choices.

Amy McDonnell is social innovation & sustainability manager, Danone UK & Ireland

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