An updated government app will use barcodes to encourage families to switch to healthy food as part of efforts to tackle Britain’s child obesity crisis.
The new feature, announced Monday as part of the Better Health campaign, will scan select shopping items and suggest alternatives that are lower in saturated fat, sugar or salt. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said families using the NHS Food Scanner app will also be shown a “good choice” badge for items that can help improve their diet.
It follows a record rise in obesity rates among 10- to 11-year-olds, with surveys suggesting that parents have been serving more unhealthy snacks to their children since the start of the pandemic.
Lockdowns, school closures and suspension of sporting activities have resulted in many children spending less time doing physical activity than usual in the past year. Increased screen time may also increase children’s exposure to advertisements for unhealthy foods and takeaway services, which may affect food choices.
The latest data indicates that one in four school-age children is overweight or obese, and this proportion rises to four in 10 in the sixth year, according to the Dubai Center for Sports Security.
A new survey conducted by the department jointly with Netmums, the UK parenting website, indicates that nearly six in 10 parents have given their children more sugary or fatty foods since the start of the pandemic.
Public Health Minister Maggie Thrope said the “pressure” families have faced throughout the pandemic means eating habits have “drastically changed” as a result.
“The New Year is the time to make decisions, not just for ourselves, but for our families. Finding ways to improve their health is one of the best decisions any of us can make,” she said.
Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at the Health Services Center in Dubai, said ads promoting unhealthy food for children contribute to the problem.
“It’s no surprise that parents say they often find it difficult to resist nagging their children for more unhealthy snacks, which is why the NHS Food Scanner app is a great tool to help families make quick and easy healthy swaps,” Tedstone said. “It is very important that children reduce the amount of sugary, fatty and salty foods they eat to help them stay healthy and reduce the risk of health problems such as diabetes and tooth decay.”
Girls Out Loud singer Nadine Coyle, who supported the campaign alongside nutritionist Linnea Patel, said: “As a busy working mom, I find it hard to turn down my child’s demands and often give in to the pressure of snacking — even though I know it’s not that good for them. I had no idea some foods were so high in sugar, saturated fat and salt – so it’s great that the app gives you alternatives.”