An updated government app will use barcodes to encourage families to switch to healthier food as part of efforts to tackle Britain’s child obesity crisis.
The new feature, announced on Monday as part of the Better Health campaign, will scan selected shopping items and suggest alternatives with less saturated fat, sugar or salt. Families using the NHS Food Scanner app will also be shown a “Good Choice” badge for items which could help improve their diet, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
It follows a record rise in obesity among 10- to 11-year-olds, with surveys suggesting that parents have been giving more unhealthy snacks to their children since the start of the pandemic.
Lockdowns, school closures and sports activities being suspended meant many children spent less time doing physical activity than usual in the past year. Increased screen time may have also increased children’s exposure to adverts for unhealthy food and takeaway services, potentially influencing food choices.
The latest data suggests one in four children of reception school age are overweight or obese and this rises to four in 10 in Year 6, according to the DHSC.
A new survey conducted jointly by the department and Netmums, a UK parenting website, suggests nearly six in 10 parents have given their children more sugary or fatty food since the start of the pandemic.
Public health minister, Maggie Throup, said that the “pressure” faced by families throughout the pandemic meant dietary habits had “drastically changed” as a result.
“The new year is a good time for making resolutions, not just for ourselves, but for our families. Finding ways to improve their health is one of the best resolutions any of us could make,” she said.
Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at the DHSC, said advertisements promoting unhealthy food to children were contributing to the problem.
“It’s not surprising that parents say they’ve often found it hard to resist pestering from their children for more unhealthy snacks, and that is why the NHS Food Scanner App is a great tool to help families make quick and easy healthier swaps,” Tedstone said. “It’s so important that children reduce the amount of sugary, fatty and salty foods they eat to help them stay healthy and reduce the risk of health problems such as diabetes and tooth decay.”
Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle, who has backed the campaign alongside dietician Linia Patel, said: “As a busy working mum, I find it hard to say no to my kid’s demands and often give in to snack pressure – even though I know it’s not that good for them. I had no idea some foods were so high in sugar, saturated fat and salt – so it’s great that the app gives you alternatives.”