Wow I’ve just realised I’ve been teaching nutrition for nearly 20yrs. How time flies when you are having fun! I have watched the public’s interest in food and health grow massively over the years but sadly so have many of our waist lines. I am a huge advocate of evidence based nutrition when it comes to education and giving advice but only in the last few years have I really started to move from academia into the public health arena. I comment a lot in the media and I am keen to set the facts straight when it comes to nutrition in news. This was one of the reasons I started my own blog called The Grub Hub last year. I want to make positive changes to the eating habits in our communities but it can be frustrating and I have felt disillusioned at times.
Last year I criticised the launch of a 2,000+ Calorie double donut burger launched here in the UK. I am very concerned about the promotion of food as a gimmick in order to attract customers; that this sort of food (which is shocking in every sense) becomes the norm and the healthy options become the most difficult to find in our food environment.
I am getting a reputation for being ‘a woman on a mission’ which I think is probably a fair reflection. I am currently campaigning and lobbying against the promotion of junk food at checkouts and unhealthy food marketing in an effort to tackle obesity. It amazes me how stores take no responsibility for the products they sell and are reluctant to enable healthier food choices. I feel our Government could do so much more in terms of enforcing the food industry to make changes to their policies, particularly when it comes to foods aimed at children. I am quite happy these days to stick my head above the parapet as I feel it is my responsibility to help make a difference. Although I strive to never judge or dictate, I am often criticised for ‘telling people what to eat’ and helping to run a ‘nanny state’. My skin is certainly growing a bit thicker as a result!
In contrast, I have recently started to support a local food bank to help improve the nutritional quality of food parcels they provide to families in crisis. Relying heavily on public donations, the food parcels contain mostly processed, tinned food that tends to be very high in sugar, salt and fat. Although families are not expected to rely heavily on such donations, the reality is they can be obtaining food parcels for weeks if not months on end. I have highlighted the possibility of food bank customers developing malnutrition because there is rarely any fresh or perishable food available. Food poverty is a significant problem that is often ignored in the UK and sadly we are seeing a resurgence of rickets. Linked to our indoor lifestyle, I am developing some information leaflets and posters on Vitamin D deficiency in addition to exploring ways in which more fresh produce can be made available to those that need it.
Mel Wakeman, MSc Nutrition