Our mission is to increase the average number of healthy years lived in the UK, while narrowing health inequalities.
Over the past decade, the increase in UK life expectancy has slowed dramatically and health inequalities have widened. One of the starkest truths we face is that the poorest in society die around nine years before their more affluent peers, and experience ill health almost two decades earlier.
This gap is socially determined: the conditions in which people live and the opportunities available to them shape the extent to which they can be healthy. Related negative outcomes such as loneliness and high blood pressure contribute to the greatest loss of healthy life.
Obesity, which affects 35 million adults in the UK, and loneliness, which affects nine million people, account for a disproportionate risk to healthy life across the UK.
We want to halve the prevalence of obesity by 2030. This would increase healthy life expectancy by an average of nearly two years for around ten million people in the UK, while narrowing health inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.
Relatively small changes to diets can make a big difference to health outcomes. On average, adults eat 195 calories more than they need each day – the equivalent of a packet of crisps. For those who are overweight, this increases to 320 excess calories. By reducing daily calorie consumption by an average of 250 calories over a five-year period, our projections indicate that 50 per cent of adults who are obese and 16 per cent of those who are overweight would move into a healthier weight class. This would mean around ten million people in the UK could expect to live nearly two more years in good health as a result of changes to their diets.
Many efforts to date have put too much onus on individuals without fully recognising the influence of supermarkets, restaurants and food producers on the choices we make. To effectively reduce obesity, we must make healthy eating easier, regardless of how little money or time people have, where they live or how health-conscious they are. Manufacturers must reformulate their products, retailers must actively promote healthier choices and government must ensure people have controlled portion sizes and access to healthier food. The public needs improved transparency about what they are eating and what alternatives are available.
It is possible to shift the market dynamics that mould people’s food environments. While the Soft Drinks Industry Levy made certain drinks more expensive for consumers, its power was not in the direct effect it had on consumer behaviour but in the way it incentivised producers to reformulate their drinks to avoid the levy, ultimately reducing sugar consumption from sugary drinks by 35 per cent on average. Better labelling, advertising bans and further levies could exploit a similar logic – moving enough health-conscious consumers to incentivise producers to reformulate their products, and supermarkets and restaurants to promote healthier foods.
We will work with others to catalyse and accelerate these changes. We can form coalitions around a five-year target of reducing daily calorie intake. Together, we can identify the barriers to achieving this target and use our innovation methods to help overcome them.
For example, we can use novel data science approaches to understand which foods and food categories would drive the highest return in terms of calories saved from reformulation. We can work directly with the public to understand perceptions of acceptability around government intervention – and what it would take to increase acceptance. We can help retailers and manufacturers experiment with portion sizes. We can collaborate with wholesalers to redesign their ordering platforms in a way that puts healthier food in shops, without compromising commercial performance.
While loneliness has gained greater traction as a public health issue – and is understood to be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day – we do not yet understand the extent to which reducing loneliness would lower the associated health burden. Our initial work aims to help grow the evidence base on how loneliness drives ill health, in order to design new solutions that most effectively nurture the relationships that sustain people.