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Tackling the ticking timebomb of obesity

24 June 2015

Prof Kevin Morgan

The cost of diet-related disease threatens to bankrupt the NHS unless Wales follows Scotland's lead in ensuring the availability of good food for all, says a University expert on sustainable food

Kevin Morgan, Professor of Governance and Development in the School of Planning and Geography, argues that the ticking timebomb of obesity could overwhelm the health service unless Wales's increasing levels of childhood obesity are tackled.

He makes the case as part of a platform for leading experts to put forward practical ideas for Welsh policymakers.

The Senedd Papers series is a partnership between independent think-tank the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) and the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, Dame Rosemary Butler.

Professor Morgan, the University's Dean of Engagement, said: "British consumers have been subjected to so many food crises – from Foot and Mouth in 2001 to the horsemeat scandal of 2013 – that the food industry may have lost its capacity to shock.

"But what is most shocking of all is that ill-health due to unhealthy diets is reckoned to be some 50 times greater than ill-health due to food-borne diseases, a finding that raises big questions about the nature of our food industry."

In the IWA's third Senedd Paper, Good Food For All, Professor Morgan calls on the Welsh Government to work in concert with civil society movements and enlightened businesses to "counter the formidable power of the junk food industry, which is the primary source of our obesogenic environment".

He highlights how the Scottish Government has put considerable effort into promoting the Food for Life Scotland Catering Mark in schools, work places, care homes, leisure centres and visitor attractions.

Scotland has ambitious plans to increase the take-up of good food with the aim of improving public health and boosting the Scottish food industry.

Professor Morgan said: "Since the Welsh Government shares these goals there is no reason why it could not emulate its Scottish counterpart and champion good food for all.

"While ministers might say that they already support the principle of good food for all, the point is that nothing speaks louder than the Food for Life imprimatur, which provides the incontrovertible evidence that public bodies are not just talking about values but practising them - the difference between good intentions and good practice."

He sets out a three-point plan for manifesto writers to consider:

  • A special team of a dozen food procurement specialists to be set up centrally to help public sector bodies throughout Wales use the power of purchase to ensure good food for all in public settings
  • The next Welsh Government must emulate the determination of the Scottish Government to become a Good Food Nation by leading from the front by adopting the Food for Life Catering Mark model in its own catering and promoting the model to others as well
  • Piloting, then rolling out, the Food For Life standards in schools through the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes.

IWA Director Lee Waters said Professor Morgan's Senedd Paper was an "important and passionate piece of work based on evidence".

"By drawing a contrast with the actions of the Scottish Government, Professor Morgan challenges all parties to deliver on ensuring Good Food For All," he said.

The paper is being launched at the Senedd media briefing room on June 24 where Professor Morgan will discuss his proposals with a panel.