In the summer the Minister of State for Health Services, Rosie Winterton, confirmed that the government accepts that a good diet can “help to maintain and protect people's mental well-being” (see page 5). In response, we wrote to the Minister with a copy of the Changing Diets, Changing Minds report requesting a meeting to discuss the policy recommendations it sets out. We were pleased to receive a positive response and are now arranging the meeting.
The Big Lottery Well-being bid – Cultivating Well-being – was submitted in July as a portfolio of over two dozen projects linking food growing and cooking activities with people with mental health or behavioural problems. Together the projects comprise around 50 individual initiatives, which are estimated to reach around 400,000 people over a five year period. The application, for a total of £18.4 million, followed a period of wide-ranging consultation with Sustain members and other contacts. The decision about whether we are invited to stage two of the application should be made before Christmas.
Our response to the European Commission's Green Paper on Mental Health has now been published online, alongside other responses. The Commission is now analysing these responses and will be reporting back in the autumn.
Courtney also submitted comments to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence on its dementia guideline, thanks to helpful feedback from our advisory panel. The consultation responses are now being analysed, but it is not known when the guidelines will be released.
There has been some interesting food and mental health research published recently. For example, a trial on the effect of omega-3 on the cognitive abilities of children found that there was no effect of supplementation, while a study on breastfeeding found that babies who were breastfed were not more intelligent than those that were not. The project continues to monitor these developments and circulate them in our monthly e-news roundups.
Courtney is still investigating the question of the overabundance of omega-6 in the food supply as it is a good opportunity to make clearer the link between agricultural policy and human health. As a part of this work, Courtney attends the meetings of the UK Soya Alliance, co-ordinated by the UK Food Group, to ensure that human health is incorporated in its work alongside environmental and human rights concerns.
Courtney has written a number of published articles that highlight the connection between diet and mental health, and requests for more articles continue to arrive. The result has been a higher profile for the project, continuing sales and downloads of the Changing Diets, Changing Minds report, and a second print run for the report. The project continues to work with the Mental Health Foundation, and Courtney gave a joint seminar with it and the School Food Trust about diet and mental health at the Young Minds annual conference in July.
We submitted a response to the European Commission on its Green Paper on mental health, welcoming the establishment of EU-wide strategy and Action Plan on Mental Health and requesting that any strategy includes dietary considerations. We will shortly be submitting a response to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence on its consultation on dementia guidelines.
The FSA has announced the results of its review of the effect of diet, including omega-3, on children's learning, education and performance (see p.9). It has concluded that, due to the small number of studies, the variation in study design and poor quality of many of them that it is impossible to reach any firm conclusions. This was not a surprise as it is known that there is a dearth of large-scale studies in the area. Reports of improvements often come from schools where nutrition has been improved, but no baseline measurements were taken. The FSA said it would like to see more long-term and quality research in the area.
This and other related research, industry news and policy developments continue to be circulated in “monthly e-round-ups” to the Food and Mental Health network. The response to these has been very positive, and they have generated a number of fascinating online discussions.
We continue to monitor the issue of omega-3 and fish oils. After investigating the source of omega-3 supplements, it became apparent that the use of fish oils in supplements is minuscule compared to their use in industry and aquaculture. As such, the issue is really about sustainable fisheries, and thus outside the project's remit. However, the Project is still monitoring the use of fish oils in functional foods claiming “brain health” benefits and was pleased that the Advertising Standards Agency ruled against St. Ivel's “clever milk” marketing. The ASA said that the campaign was misleading as the levels of omega-3 in the milk were much lower than the amounts used in the omega-3 studies on which the marketing claims relied.
At the same time, we have started to investigate the related issue of omega-6 oils. There is a case to be made that rebalancing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the food chain – by considerably reducing the amount of omega-6 – would have not only health benefits, but also considerable environmental benefits. The current ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is around 15:1, whereas it should be approximately 1:1. Significant progress towards a more even ratio, by reducing production and consumption of omega-6, could minimise the need for more omega-3 in the diet, thus easing pressure on fish stocks. Moreover, since soya oil is one of the main sources of omega-6, such a policy change could also reduce the environmental damage caused by soya.
Big Lottery bid
Sustain will be leading on an England-wide portfolio bid to the Big Lottery's Well-being Programme. The deadline for the first stage of the application process is 28 July. This decision follows extensive consultation with Sustain's membership and with Sustain's project networks. This has confirmed widespread and enthusiastic interest in Sustain creating a portfolio of projects, building on the Food and Mental Health Project, which will aim to tackle mental ill-health and anti-social behaviour by improving the quality of people's diets. Activities will include cooking and food growing projects alongside providing a variety of sources of information about food.
Food & Mental Health: The project promotes understanding of the links between good diet and mental wellbeing, addressing the many implications of the growing evidence linking what we eat to the way we feel and behave.
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