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Call for schools and hospitals to serve ‘real food’

by Rachel Symonds
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A House of Lord inquiry has been told that schools and hospitals should stop serving ultra-processed foods and give kids real food.

The Soil Association and Professor Tim Spector spoke at the Lords Select Committee Inquiry into Diet, Health and Obesity, where Professor Spector recommended that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) should make up no more than 10 per cent of the food served in government funded institutions. This would be a dramatic shift as UPFs make up 61 per cent of energy intake from school meals for primary school children, due to a range of factors, including tighter budgets and a lack of facilities.

After being asked which strategies he would propose to tackle obesity, Spector said government should “make sure that all government, taxpayer funded institutions, like schools, hospitals, other institutions, have a policy of having less than 10 per cent ultra-processed food in their diets”.

He added: “I think it’s particularly important for our school children that they actually do get some real food.”

The Soil Association supports a bold UPF reduction target for public institutions and urges government to roll this out alongside a “whole school approach” that reconnects children with real food with cooking, growing, farm visits, as well as sensory food education.

Spector’s recommendation followed a warning given earlier in the proceedings by Soil Association’s Head of Food Policy, Rob Percival, who said that these foods were disrupting children’s relationship with food.

Percival warned that the debate on healthy diets had become reductive to talk about nutrients instead of food, and that this had been “spun” by the food industry to support a “harmful policy paradigm” that leads to an industrialised food supply which is not beneficial to our health.

He said: “The good work of nutrition scientists, who have revealed the complexity of food and the necessity of a healthy dietary pattern, is being twisted into a policy paradigm where if we just think that if we throw in some fibre over there and squeeze out a few calories over here we might be healthy. And it’s not working.

“Our children are growing up from a very young age on an ultra-processed diet. They are growing up on a diet that’s universally soft and sweet, in which certain physiological responses are encouraged and certain behaviour patterns are entrenched, like snacking. Their whole relationship with food is being disrupted and this is all by factors that lie beyond the nutrient composition of these foods. We need to look beyond the nutrients if we’re to understand what’s going on.”

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