Scheme would build on successful programmes from around the world
Fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers could be given to families to help them eat more healthily under government plans announced to ‘level up’ across the UK.
Doctors could be given powers to prescribe tokens, cooking lessons and nutritional education in a bid to tackle Britain’s growing obesity problem.
The UK ranks among the worst countries in Europe for obesity, with two in three adults overweight.
The causes of obesity are complex and varied.
Experts say the quality and quantity of cheaper food products available in the UK is a factor in its obesity problem.
In its levelling up white paper published on Tuesday, the government said it would take forward plans from Henry Dimbelby’s 2021 independent review into the country’s food systems.
Mr Dimbleby, co-founder of the popular fast food chain Leon, said at the time that “obesity and food is very much about poverty” as he called for more support to be given to support the diets of the UK’s poorest households.
The plan to give out vouchers, which comes under Mr Dimbley’s Community Eatwell programme, would build on successful models from elsewhere in the world, including Washington DC in the US.
Officials there launched a Produce Prescription programme which enabled doctors to give out vouchers for healthy food and nutrition lessons.
The scheme was shown to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables and understanding about healthy diets.
Of the 120 people who took part in a study analysing the benefits of the scheme, some 50 per cent lost weight over the course of their prescription.
Ministers have said they will invest up to £5 million in a “school cooking revolution”, which would include new food content for the curriculum and bursaries for teacher training and support.
To support this, the government says it will invest a further £200,000 in a pilot programme for governors and academy trusts on a “whole school approach to food”.
The Department for Health and Social Care, which is in charge of the Community Eatwell programme, was unable to provide more detail about the voucher scheme or when it would start.
A spokesperson said: “Obesity is one of the biggest health issues we face as a country which is why we are encouraging everyone to live a healthy life, regardless of circumstance and background.
“As part of the health-related announcements in the recent Levelling Up White Paper, we have committed to trialling the Community Eatwell programme building on what works best for communities to help make the healthier option the easier option.
“This will build on highly successful models from around the world. Similar schemes in the US have been shown to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables and improve healthy eating”.
The government’s levelling up strategy was published on Tuesday after Michael Gove, the cabinet secretary responsible for the brief, gave a statement to MPs in the Commons.
The paper, which is heavily aimed at northern England, attempts to lay out the problems of inequality between the UK’s regions and offer solutions to people to allow them to “take back control of their lives”.
Some northern MPs welcomed ideas within the plan but questioned whether they will be delivered.
Researchers criticised the strategy for its lack of detail while Labour claimed there was not enough money to fund all the pledges within it.
“This system is completely broken and he’s (Mr Gove) given us more of the same,” said Lisa Nandy, the party’s shadow levelling up secretary.