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How does the rest of the G7 compare to the UK on healthy food?

June 10th, 2021

Image by sculptor Joe Rush

This week, some of the world’s most powerful people are gathering in Cornwall for the annual meeting of the G7. After a tumultuous year for health across the globe, the discussions will likely focus on how we recover from the pandemic and ensure a healthy future for everyone. 

Hopefully, one of the issues on their minds will be what’s on our plates. Covid has made clearer than ever how important it is that the country eats well to stay resilient against health threats. There’s a lot that governments can do to make it easier for their citizens to eat healthier food, no matter where they live, what their income, or how busy they are. 

Across the G7, there are some world-leading policies that can contribute to that goal. We’ve researched a summary of what each country is doing to bring together the successes in one place, and to compare the progress that’s been made. Read the new research to find out what’s going on for healthy food across the G7, or catch up with the summary table.

Of course, we’re coming from a perspective within the UK – there’s probably a lot that we’ve missed. So let’s focus on what we think the UK is doing really well, and what we can learn from the rest of the G7.

The UK’s policies to make healthy food affordable and appealing are world-leading

There’s a lot to celebrate in the UK at the moment, particularly the recent commitment to implementing junk food advertising restrictions on TV and online. This is a word-leading policy which could inspire other countries to follow suit; it’s helping others make the case in Australia and elsewhere to protect children from the bombardment of junk food advertising. The online restrictions alone could remove 12.5 billion calories from the diets of British children each year; if replicated across the G7, the policy could take unhealthy food out of the spotlight for a whole generation.

The Healthy Start voucher scheme is a key success for UK policy in making healthier food affordable. For low income people who are pregnant or have a child under 4 in the UK, the Healthy Start scheme contributes towards basic foods like milk or fruit. Women participating said that Healthy Start vouchers increased the quantity and range of fruit and vegetables they used and improved the family diet overall. Building on the success of this scheme, the Government recently committed to extending the scheme to families who were previously excluded due to immigration status, and to increasing the value to £4.25 per week.

Elsewhere, school food and reformulation programs are changing food for the better

Japan is a bit of an outlier on our list. The culture and history of food in Japan means traditional food habits have not changed as much as elsewhere, and the country has the lowest levels of obesity among the G7 countries. Although Japan hasn’t enacted some of the policies on our list, their world-leading school lunch program teaches children about healthy food while keeping them well fed. 

The menus are prepared by school nutritionists and consist of traditional Japanese food, including vegetables and fruit or yoghurt for dessert. Food is eaten together in class, with students taking turns to help serve the food, and is accompanied with lessons about a balanced diet.

Elsewhere, both Canada and the US have ended the use of hydrogenated oils in food. Hydrogenated oils are the main source of industrially-produced trans fats, so this change means a huge reduction in trans fats in Canada and US diets without any necessary change in consumer behavior. In the UK, although the Government has urged producers to cut down on trans fats, no such restrictions have been enforced.

Let’s set the stage for healthy food 

We already have everything we need to make healthy food easy. In the UK, we need to keep implementing the world-leading Obesity Strategy and make healthy food more affordable, accessible and appealing. Across the G7, we all need to show a commitment to helping people eat healthily, to protect their health against future pandemics and to ensure everybody has the chance to a nutritious diet.