Comment: Halt the obesity juggernaut

Ali Capper, a member of the National Farmers' Union's national Horticulture and Potatoes Board.
Ali Capper, a member of the National Farmers' Union's national Horticulture and Potatoes Board.
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As a farmer and a mother at this time of year, I think the old adage of ‘an apple a day’ is now more relevant than ever.

I read again recently that the obesity crisis is now seen by our GPs as a ‘state of emergency’ in children. Sugary drinks, snacks and too much processed food, it seems, are to blame.

British farmers should be very proud of the increasing amount of British fruit and veg that has become available to shoppers in recent years.

Through innovations in new varieties and new growing systems, sectors such as asparagus, strawberries and raspberries are now providing higher volumes of British fruit and veg than was available in the past. Apple growers too are innovating with modern growing systems and new varieties.

Replacing imports gives us better resilience, food security and greater opportunities to keep reinvesting in our businesses. Fundamentally though, the overall level of fruit and veg intake in the UK is much lower than it should be.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults should consume 400g of fruit and veg per day; only four countries in the EU achieve the recommendation: Poland, Italy, Germany and Austria.

The UK ranks 15 out of 19 with an average intake of only 258g of fruit and veg per adult. Eating more fruit and veg is not simply a question of cost, it’s a question of convenience, choice, availability and inevitably education to reinforce the health messages.

The public health imperative is indisputable with 70 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women overweight or obese and these numbers are increasing.

A worrying 33 per cent of 11-year-olds are overweight or obese, while 50 per cent of the population is forecast to be obese by 2050 at an annual cost to the NHS of £50 million.

The UK eats on the move. Children rarely cook with their parents, only one in eight households use an oven. Reaching for a snack means consumers choose the quickest and easiest option, usually in a packet. Our industry needs to urgently partner with the Government and draw down funds to support a campaign to get everyone to replace unhealthy snacks and meal options with fresh fruit and veg. And as an industry we need to make sure that fresh fruit and veg is presented in as convenient a way as possible so that it becomes normal to see consumers choosing an apple, a pear, a mini punnet of strawberries or snack pots of veg instead of a chocolate bar or a bag of crisps.

This means that we need to retail in new ways, presenting fruit and veg in ready to eat formats and as a snack.

We need to invest in new fixtures, merchandising and displays and be present in garage forecourts, snack bars, newsagents, the snacking aisle of supermarkets and corner shops.

A new way of thinking about, presenting and selling fruit and veg is required if we are to increase consumption levels among the UK population and turn around the obesity crisis juggernaut.

I hope that one day soon I will be able to walk into any convenience retailer on the high street, on a street corner, in a garage forecourt and find a selection of single apples, ready to eat (clean and wrapped or cut and packed) that look fresh and appealing. Presented and displayed on the same ‘fixture’ as chocolate, crisps and sweets.

Ali Capper is a member of the NFU’s national Horticulture and Potatoes Board.