Voices of young people must be heard in the pursuit of healthier lives

Posted: 22 June 2022 | , | No comments yet

As the Consumer Goods Forum holds its Global Summit in Dublin, Sharon Bligh and Christina Adane call for young people to be given the limelight and agency to decide their own food futures.

The Consumer Goods Forum's Global Summit is taking place in Dublin

The upcoming generation of consumers is setting the highest bar for progressive and socially responsible business and, increasingly, is challenging the food industry to do more for child health.

It is easy to understand why. Many young people are more aware than ever of the importance of health and a more sustainable food system that is better for them and the planet. Yet more than three million young people under the age of 18 in the UK are at risk of diet related ill health – and those living in our poorest communities are more than twice as likely to be affected. One in three children leaving primary school in England are already overweight or living with obesity.

Radical change is needed, and the industry must continue to go further to ensure it plays its part in solving this crisis.

Covid-19 has only further served to highlight the injustices in the food system and sharpen the focus on the impact obesity has on health outcomes. There is a political moment, public appetite and the policy space now to accelerate change.

Listening to the voices of young people is critical as the food industry strengthens its commitment to the nation’s health. We are all deeply affected by the unhealthy food on our high streets, supermarket shelves and in school canteens. Following the disruptions of the past couple of years, people of all ages are craving change. And the message is coming through clearly from young people, who want to see more positive action from industry.

This is why The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) will be welcoming the voices of Bite Back 2030 at its Global Summit in Dublin – when senior leaders from across the industry will hear from exceptional young people. Bite Back is a youth-led movement for a healthier, fairer food system. Its goal is to halve the number of children at risk of diet related ill health by 2030.

Co-founded by Jamie Oliver, who has previously spoken at CGF’s Global Summit, Bite Back is fostering the next generation of food activists – united by the belief that every young person should have access to a healthy diet, no matter where they live. The organisation wants young people to be the key voice in driving change in our food system. It finds, recruits and trains inspirational youth activists, supporting them to lead campaigns and find new solutions by bringing them together with decision-makers in national and local government, the food industry and schools.

jamie oliver

TV chef Jamie Oliver is a co-founder of Bite Back

What does Bite Back want?

Bite Back is calling for more transparency, investment in child health and a health-focused role on the boards of consumer companies. Young people strongly believe that these are reasonable expectations in 2022. It is the right thing to do for people and communities, which means it will also be good for business.

Collaboration for Healthier Lives is a Coalition of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), the only CEO-led organisation that brings consumer goods retailers and manufacturers together globally. CGF is dedicated to helping consumer goods manufacturers and retailers to collaborate, alongside other key stakeholders, to drive positive change for people and planet.

Collaboration for Healthier Lives unites over 160 retailers, manufacturers, NGOs, academics, governments and public health authorities from around the globe. Its commitment is to help people make healthier decisions every day in every community around the world.

CGF recognises that Bite Back 2030, in common with other health campaigners, is understandably disappointed over the delay in the UK’s implementation of high fat salt and sugar (HFSS) legislation, which would have restricted the sale of volume promotions, such as Buy One Get One Free. There is also widespread feeling among health campaigners and even the Government’s own adviser on food issues, Henry Dimbleby, that the Government’s new food strategy for England does not go far enough.

Fail to act, get left behind

However, legislation is just part of the solution. There is a need for far wider plans across the whole food sector to help consumers make healthier choices. Retailers and food brands have significant power to ensure that healthier products are more widely available and affordable, and promoted as a positive and motivating choice. At CGF, we have witnessed first-hand success in addressing issues through targeted, localised action – including, for example, members trialling instore activations to promote healthier products and make them more accessible in the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

Consumers, employees, investors and partners are rewarding those businesses who do the right thing to improve the health of communities. If businesses fail to act, they will get left behind.

Young people want to be empowered to make changes to their health and wellbeing, so they can live healthy and more active lifestyles for longer. It is critical that their voices are heard. The food industry must engage to improve food systems, amplifying the advocacy and voices of young consumers.

About the author

Sharon Bligh is Healthier Lives Director at The Consumer Goods Forum.

Christina Adane is a Bite Back 2030 National Youth Board Member