Health matters: obesity and the food environment

Health matters is an information resource from Public Health England which includes infographics, videos, case studies and slide sets alongside written content. PHE have created this tool to bring together in one place the most informative data and the best evidence of what works in tackling major public health problems. The latest edition of Health Matters, a resource for local authorities and health professionals, focuses on obesity and the food environment.

Nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) in England were classed as being overweight (a body mass index of over 25) or obese (a BMI of over 30) in 2015. In 2015 to 2016, 19.8% of children aged 10 to 11 were obese and a further 14.3% were overweight. Of children aged 4 to 5, 9.3% were obese and another 12.8% were overweight. (Follow links to see comparable data for local areas in England in LG Inform).

There is no silver bullet for tackling obesity. Its causes are complex with many drivers including behaviour, environment, biology and physiology and culture. The vast majority of people know that eating a healthy diet, as well as being physically active is good for them and will help to prevent weight gain, but for many people it can be a real struggle to put this into practice. This is primarily because we are living in an obesogenic environment that encourages us to eat too many calories and not be physically active.

PHE estimated in 2014 that there are over 50,000 fast food and takeaway outlets, in England. On average, there are more fast food outlets in deprived areas than in more affluent areas. And the increasing consumption of meals out of the home or takeaways has been identified as an important factor contributing to rising levels of obesity.

This latest edition of Health Matters explores how we can fundamentally change the food environment so that the healthier choice becomes the default thereby supporting children and their families to improve their diets. Influencing the food environment so that healthier options are accessible, available and affordable can only be accomplished through a collaborative approach, effective partnerships and co-ordinated action at a national and also at a local level across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Councils have key opportunities to act out and lead improvements. Local councils and food businesses (such as fast food takeaways, restaurants, cafes, mobile food vendors, market stalls, corner shops, convenience stores, leisure centres and children’s centres) have great influence over the lives of their local community. There are many examples of councils working with outlets to create a healthier food environment. By working together and in partnership with the local community local councils can go further to positively influence the food environment, to promote and make healthier food choices, enabling us all to live healthier lives.

This edition of Health Matters focuses on PHE’s new strategies in the encouraging healthier 'out of home' food provision toolkit which summarises the evidence base, types of interventions, and emerging local practice. It can help those responsible within local councils, to think about how, through working in a systems approach, they might bring together a coalition of partners to improve the food environment.

The Healthier catering guidance for different types of business, which accompanies the toolkit, provides tips for business on how to provide and promote healthier food and drink for adults, children and families. The advice describes simple practical changes that different types of businesses can make when procuring, preparing, cooking, serving and promoting food. By improving every day food we can help healthier food become the default choice, improving the quality of life for future generations.

Download the infographics and slides available with the latest edition of Health Matters and use them locally when commissioning or delivering interventions to make food and drink healthier.

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