Are we “Building Back Better”?

23 July 2020

“Building back better” has been part of the rhetoric of economic recovery from COVID-19[1]. What are the signs that positive action on diet and healthy weight will be part of the recovery?

Our Prime Minster has vowed action to tackle obesity and we await an announcement of detailed proposals. Whilst the UK Government have many potential actions ready to go following recent consultations - restricting HFSS promotions (England only), a 9pm advertising watershed (UK wide) and calorie labelling in restaurants (England only) -  their implementation in a Covid world may be undermined by economic policy elsewhere.

The economic policy for recovery across the UK has included reduced VAT for eating out and the “Eat Out to Help Out Scheme”, all of which offer discounted food in the out of home sector. The impact this will have on our diet remains to be seen. The proposed incentives to reinvigorate the out of home sector do not offer any encouragement for healthy options.  Fiscal measures are an effective tool to influence diet but we need the right fiscal measures. One of the cheapest Big Macs in the world[2] isn’t the positive influence on diet we were hoping for.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, eating out of home accounted for around 25% of calorie intake and the industry needed an overhaul to enable healthier options. Whilst this sector suffered significantly in the lockdown period, and it remains to be seen how well this industry recovers, we cannot just go back to the old ways. We must ensure a reinvigorated sector enables easier access to healthier options.

In Scotland we have seen a pause on the Promotions Bill which means no progress this side of the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections[3]. We also wait to hear what a coronavirus-influenced out of home strategy for Scotland will look like as this was also still under development by Scottish Government with a final version due this year. 

The action needed to enable healthy weight is more relevant now than ever. People with obesity are more vulnerable to COVID-19 severity[4]. Our diet, our weight and our resilience have become key factors in an era of a global pandemic.

Within a post-lockdown UK “building back better” in a way that positively influences diet and weight has still to make an appearance.