The UK’s world-renowned National Health Service (NHS) is creaking at the seams, in large part because it is spending more and more of its scarce resources on treating chronic conditions that result from poor diet.
The NHS diverts far more resources into dealing with the symptoms than it does in addressing the causes.
The latter could help tackle the former if we spent more on tackling the problems associated with poor diet at source, through simple initiatives such as teaching cooking skills in schools, taxing unhealthy foods, subsidising healthy foods and providing unbiased dietary education and advice.
Change4Life is one such initiative, intended to provide clear and simple advice on diet to pregnant mothers. It was launched in 2009 by the previous coalition government, with the express objective of “developing a marketing strategy for reducing obesity in England”. At its launch it was claimed to be the “most ambitious social marketing campaign anywhere in the world on this topic”.
So how is this project doing, five years on?
Well, a report published last month by the Heath and Social Care Information Centre suggested that there had been a reduction in obesity in reception year children (aged 4-5) from 9.9% to 9.1% compared with 8 years ago. This is positive news and is arguably evidence of the Change 4 Life initiative beginning to have an impact, not least because the main target of its campaigning work has been pregnant mothers.
But it is not enough, and one significant challenge facing Change4Life is that it is simply not competing on a level playing field.
It has a limited annual budget which is roughly equivalent to the annual UK advertising budget of the dairy products multinational Muller, who manufacture “Muller Lite” and other sweet yoghurt products.
The fast food chain McDonald’s has a UK advertising budget nearly three times that of Change 4 Life. Other major food manufacturers such as KFC, Nestle and Mars also have signifcantly larger advertising budgets than Change 4 Life.
While initiatives like Change 4 Life are positive and welcome, without proper resourcing and concurrent restrictions on the rampant advertising of the manufacturers of unhealthy food products, their positive benefits will only ever amount to scratching at the surface of a growing problem that threatens to sink our health services.
This week’s seasonal recipe was inspired by a very good parsnip and chestnut veloute I had in a restaurant recently.
Parsnip and chestnut do work really well together but at the time I thought to myself “I reckon this would be even better with a drizzle of sage oil”, so I just had to give the idea a try. I think I was right…
parsnip and chestnut soup with sage oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
350 g parsnips, peeled and chopped
300 g peeled and cooked chestnuts
1 litre vegetable stock
½ tsp sea salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
for the sage oil
10 g fresh sage leaves
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Pour 2 tbsp olive oil into a large pan and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and the parsnip and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Add the chestnuts, sea salt and black pepper to the pan, along with the stock. Stir to combine. Bring to simmering point then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, or until the parsnip is tender. Remove from the heat and leave to cool while you make the sage oil.
3. Bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add the sage leaves, stir quickly to immerse them in the boiling water and then drain immediately and plunge into ice cold water. Drain again and dry on kitchen paper. Place the sage leaves in a blender with the olive oil and process until smooth and combined. Filter by pouring through a muslin cloth placed over a fine sieve.
4. Process the soup in a clean blender until smooth. You will need to do this in batches.
5. When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently in a clean pan. Pour into bowls and add a swirl or two of sage oil.