Diet related diseases like obesity and diabetes are taking their toll on our bodies and our minds. The diet and food industries are cashing in on our sometimes-difficult relationships with food, demanding that we eat this or don’t eat that.
At the other end of the spectrum, some people have very little control over the food they eat – because healthy food is too expensive, or because they’re forced to visit food banks, where they have little or no choice over what to eat.
Food is loaded with anxieties. The preoccupation with weight starts from birth, and is cemented via advertising as we grow up. TV chefs make perfect meals in their perfect kitchens, leaving us with unrealistically high expectations of our own culinary efforts.
These anxieties – about what we look like, whether we’re providing healthy and delicious food for our families, or if we can afford to eat at all from one day to the next – are fuelling a bad relationship with food. How can we fix it?
On one level, eating healthily is about individual choices. Each of us can decide to eat at specific times, so we’re more likely to wait for our meal and not snack. If we eat mindfully, sitting down in a specific place without distractions, we’ll feel fuller sooner.
With one in three children leaving primary school overweight or obese, we need policies that make it easy for children to eat well and be active, habits they’ll take with them into adulthood. Banning junk food outlets near schools, holding food service to account for the meals they serve to children (like the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign) and embedding good food right across the school curriculum are ways to improve society’s relationship with food. So too is mandating sixty minutes of exercise a day for primary school children.
But it isn’t just about children and what happens in school. With two thirds of all adults obese or overweight, and the associated public health costs of dealing with diet-related diseases such as diabetes, there must be wider structural changes. Much of our environment is obesogenic, and designed to drive profit over behaviours that maximise health. We need to redesign those environments to support people to make healthy choices. Affordable food shops, parks, and safe walking and cycling routes are key. So too is requiring processed food businesses to reformulate their products to reduce sugar and fat content as well as salt. Taken together, these individual, policy, cultural and environmental changes can reset our troubled relationships with food.
This summary draws partly on a blog by Prof. Jane Ogden, a speaker at this Food Talks. The full blog is available here.