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Scrapping Public Health England puts obesity work at risk, says food charity Sustain

Health secretary, Matt Hancock has confirmed that Public Health England (PHE) will be replaced by a new National Institute for Health Protection that will focus on pandemics. Concerns are raised over the future of PHE's public campaigns and product reformulation work. 

Change4Life food scanner app, image courtesy of PHE

Change4Life food scanner app, image courtesy of PHE

The Government's plan to scrap Public Health England (PHE) has been met with alarm amongst food and health campaigners at Sustain, who fear current obesity programmes may be shelved unless a strategy is outlined for existing PHE campaigns moving forward. 

The Government is set to replace PHE with a new National Institute for Health Protection that will combine the NHS Test and Trace scheme with the pandemic work of PHE. This news comes via a leaked memo written by the head of PHE, Duncan Selbie to staff, and a statement released today by health secretary, Matt Hancock.

Coordinators of Sustain campaigns Sugar Smart and Children’s Food Campaign worry the move would jeopardise years of national, regional and community work that have kept the public informed with regards to public health, food environments and child obesity.

Currently, there is no indication of plans to continue PHE's work on health improvement, supporting food industry product reformulation, nor the agency's flagship public-facing campaigns such as Change4Life in this restructure.

Sugar Smart Campaign coordinator, Vera Zakharov responded:

“The move to scrap and subsume PHE raises serious concerns for local work to improve public health and reduce child obesity. PHE’s flagship campaigns such as Change4Life and the popular food scanner app are essential resources for local authorities, schools and community organisations to help people of all ages eat healthier. And their work with the food industry on sugar reduction and reformulation has been instrumental in providing healthier food options. The health secretary has made no indications on the future of this work, and that is worrying.

Covid-19 has exposed the crucial role of health improvement and prevention of diet-related diseases in ensuring better outcomes in an unprecedented crisis such as a pandemic. At a time when local authorities and schools are facing overwhelming challenges and limited capacity, we hope the Government keeps public health engagement centre stage, not shelve it.”

Fran Bernhardt, Children’s Food Campaign Coordinator said:

“One of the few actionable things which has become overwhelmingly clear to everyone during this pandemic is a need for coherent, concerted efforts to reduce the UK’s levels of overweight and obesity. So it seems foolish - at best - to be jeopardising the future of the organisation which does just that day in, day out. PHE has consistently provided rigorous programmes and research to monitor, implement and evaluate the UK’s nutrition, weight and food environments so that everyone can grow up and live more healthily in this country.”

Published 18 Aug 2020

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