Food strategy created to help Bedford tackle ‘urgent’ obesity issues

Fresh produce at Bedford's Wednesday and Saturday markets

A Food Strategy to champion access to healthy food has been adopted by Bedford Council, specifically targeting children, young people and those in deprived communities.

Cllr Louise Jackson (Lab, Harpur) Bedford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for health and well-being recommended the strategy at Wednesday’s meeting of the executive.

Residents could be encouraged to grow and cook their own food to help Bedford borough reduce obesity.

Councillors fear that the coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse for deprived people who are struggling to make ends meet and afford healthy food.

“23% of children in reception year were overweight or obese,” said Cllr Jackson, quoting a study carried out before the pandemic.

“By year six that figure had increased to 35% and an astonishing 64% of adults were carrying more weight than they should be.”

A background report presented to the executive said: “Prior to the pandemic, poor diet was responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK (90,000 a year) which is more than the death toll from road traffic collisions and almost as fatal as smoking.”

It went on to say that there is early evidence that healthy eating has been difficult to maintain during the pandemic.

People have been snacking more often and having problems with motivation and control around food.

It adds: “This, combined with takeaways being one of the nation’s only freedoms during lockdown, is expected to negatively impact on obesity rates.”

Being obese has also been linked with a higher chance of death with covid.

Councillors acknowledged the huge amount of work around food poverty that is happening in the borough but they want to bring it all together in what they call a “whole systems approach.”

Cllr Jackson spoke of giving people the skills to grow and cook their own food.

Cllr Henry Vann (Lib Dem, De Parys), the council’s executive member for town centres and planning, spoke of working with market and other traders, encouraging the use of allotments and using locally supplied and seasonal foods.

Cllr Jackson added: “Seasonal food is often healthier and should be cheaper as well.”

The executive heard that the poorest people would have to spend 42% of their money after housing costs to eat the Government recommended healthy diet.

This is four times the percentage of the richest households.

In her report, Laura Waller, a senior public health officer said that without a strategy to bring all the work together there is a risk that access to support will be uncoordinated, inconsistent, ineffective and unsustainable.

“For example, people may receive a single hot meal from independent sources however, without identifying the underlying reasons why they need the support and help to tackle them, they are likely to remain in food poverty,” her report said.

In January 5,069 children were claiming free school meals in the borough, which is up 1,206 compared to September 2019.

The borough’s welfare service, which offers support to those in crisis has seen a 263 per cent increase in enquiries and 81 per cent increase in foodbank referrals when comparing January 2020 to the same month this year.

by David Tooley with additional reporting by Erica Roffe
Local Democracy Reporter