News Children's Food Campaign

Experts urge Jeremy Hunt to put public health at the heart of the Spring Budget

Sixty of the UK’s most senior health experts, including partners from across the Recipe for Change coalition, have written to the chancellor calling for him to put public health and prevention at the heart of the Spring Budget to support the economy.

Mother and her son buying fruit. Copyright: Aleksei Potov | Shutterstock

Mother and her son buying fruit. Copyright: Aleksei Potov | Shutterstock

In a letter to the chancellor, published in The Times, a coalition of doctors, scientists, health charities and food campaigners have highlighted the levels of poor health impacting the country and ultimately damaging the economy, “from the size and strength of our labour market, to productivity, to growth and GDP”.

The impact of unhealthy food options, alcohol and tobacco has led to the UK having some of the highest rates of preventable disease in the world, including type 2 diabetes, cancers and heart disease. Four out of the top five risk factors for poor health are related to diet specifically.

This poor health not only impacts us individually but also comes at a cost. Research from Frontier Economics has estimated that the total economic impact from overweight and obesity in the UK is £98 billion per year. In the letter, coordinated by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the experts highlight data from the Office for National Statistics, which shows 2.8 million people are currently out of work due to long-term illness.

Despite this challenge, we have an opportunity, the letter argues, to rethink how we approach public health and ensure that we see “health intervention as an investment, not a cost”. They highlight the arguments put forward by the Time Health Commission’ recent report. Their ten recommendations to ‘save the NHS’ also focussed on prevention of dietary disease and obesity, including calls for:

  • Expanding the sugary drinks tax, and also taxing high salt
  • Implementing a pre-watershed ban on junk food advertising
  • Reducing cartoons on packaging to minimise children's exposure to unhealthy food

The experts are calling for the chancellor to “issue a formal call for evidence as part of the 2024 Spring Budget, on financial and non-financial health policy options that help make it easier for everyone to lead healthy lives – by shaping the environments they grow, learn, work and play in.”

As just one example of the potential health and economic gains at stake, research carried out by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for our campaign shows that expanding sugar and salt taxes across the food industry could prevent over 1 million cases of cardio-vascular disease, plus over 500,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, as well as respiratory diseases and several types of cancers. The increase in quality-of-life years gained as a result could be worth up to £77.9 billion in economic gains over the next 25 years.

This is why, as part of Recipe for Change’s Spring Budget submission, our own recommendations also called on the chancellor to issue a call for evidence on measures to incentivise healthier food and drink production, including use of further financial levers beyond the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.

The letter highlights the public support for a greater focus on prevention in health, and that “the public overwhelmingly believe the government should have a stronger role in acting to create healthy lives and to take pressure off the NHS.”


Kate Howard, of the Recipe for Change campaign, says:

We fully support the calls in this letter for the chancellor to put prevention of ill-health at the centre of the Spring Budget. Alongside the impacts of tobacco and alcohol, as a nation we are flooded with unhealthy food options making it hard for families to access nutritious food. The tide is turning and it’s time for the Government to act on all the policy ideas and evidence available to prioritise both the health and wealth of the country, including expanding the sugary drinks tax and introducing a tax on foods high in salt.

Published Monday 26 February 2024

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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