More than 100 NHS doctors have written to the UK government urging it to promote a 'fair, sustainable, and healthy food system'.
The open letter - which was also signed by a further NHS 100 staff members - calls on politicians to promote such a system via a raft of legislative measures. It features six proposals.
The doctors want to shift the NHS focus from a reactive healthcare system to one that prevents chronic illness using diet as a key tool, saying that employing their suggestions would not only help people's health, but also help prevent future zoonotic disease outbreaks and assist in turning the tide on antibiotic resistance by reducing the nation’s reliance on animal agriculture.
The doctors - led by Consultant Haematologist, Dr. Shireen Kassam, and Specialist Registrar in Geriatric Medicine, Dr. Alicja Baczynska - say the UK's current food environment is 'fuelling an epidemic of chronic disease, with in this country associated with unhealthy diets'.
Widespread dietary change 'must urgently be made to both prevent these diseases and reduce the death toll from future pandemics, as fatalities from Covid-19 have stood ahead of many comparable countries', they add.
The six proposals
- Increased taxation on both retail and out-of-home food containing high levels of fat and salt, and a new tax on food produced using ingredients derived from industrial animal agriculture.
- That the ban on junk food advertising is accelerated and made total, banning such advertising even after the watershed.
- The introduction of subsidies to support the UK population in adopting a predominantly whole food and plant-based diet for both human and planetary health.
- Promotion of a plant-based food system through the adoption of Conservation Agriculture (‘No-Till’) systems to lower carbon emissions and reduce the risk of entering a ‘post-antibiotic era’.
- Protection of the oceans by discouraging over-fishing and reducing the reliance on fish consumption, finding alternate sources of long-chain omega-3 fats.
- Encourage healthy, sustainable eating through the reintroduction of public sector catering in schools and hospitals.
In a statement sent to Plant Based News, Dr. Alicja Baczynska said: "It is unacceptable that the NHS is collapsing under the weight of chronic disease, the majority of which could be prevented and treated by addressing diet and lifestyle factors.
"An increasing number of NHS doctors and staff are frustrated and disillusioned by the prevailing healthcare system, which acts to treat chronic illness rather than prevent it in the first place. Many are now turning to a field of medicine termed 'lifestyle medicine' in which illness is prevented, treated, and oftentimes reversed by addressing the root cause; that is diet and lifestyle."
The nation's health
Dr. Shireen Kassam added: "A key part of this is reducing our consumption of animal products and processed foods, which increase the incidence of chronic disease. These underlying health conditions are associated with an increased risk of dying from infections such as COVID-19.
"While it is a concern for everyone, communities of lower socio-economic means and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by diets high in processed foods and animal products, with healthy, affordable food often less accessible.
"We are a diverse group of NHS staff, many of whom have worked for decades in a healthcare system that provides a sticking plaster approach to dealing with chronic disease rather than addressing the social and lifestyle determinants of health, which have the ability for far greater benefits for the nation’s physical and mental health and well-being."