Posted on Jun 08, 2020, 5 p.m.
“An increasing number of NHS doctors and staff are frustrated and disillusioned by the prevailing healthcare system” and the UK’s current food environment is “fuelling an epidemic of chronic disease, within this country associated with unhealthy diets,” according to two UK physicians who are looking to change the system.
These NHS workers are suggesting that the current healthcare system is collapsing under the weight of chronic diseases, of which many could be prevented and treated by addressing certain diet and lifestyle factors. According to Dr. Alicja Baczynska, a Specialist Registrar in Geriatric Medicine, the current state of the healthcare system seeks to treat chronic illness rather than preventing it from happening, and this is causing frustration and disillusion among an increasing number of physicians, nurses, and staff.
Alongside of Consultant Haematologist, Dr. Shireen Kassam, Baczynska is launching a campaign that calls for the government to implement new legislation that is aimed at overhauling the healthcare system to be more focussed on disease prevention. So far over 100 NHS workers have written an open letter to the UK government to urge them to promote a “fair, sustainable, and healthy food system.”
The open letter says that widespread dietary changes “must urgently be made to both prevent these diseases and reduce the death toll from future pandemics, as fatalities from Covid-19 have stood ahead of many comparable countries.” The letter has 6 proposals:
- Increased taxation on both retail and out-of-home food containing high levels of fat and salt, and a new tax on food produced using ingredients derived from industrial animal agriculture.
- That the ban on junk food advertising is accelerated and made total, banning such advertising even after the watershed.
- The introduction of subsidies to support the UK population in adopting a predominantly whole food and plant-based diet for both human and planetary health.
- Promotion of a plant-based food system through the adoption of Conservation Agriculture (‘No-Till’) systems to lower carbon emissions and reduce the risk of entering a ‘post-antibiotic era’.
- Protection of the oceans by discouraging over-fishing and reducing the reliance on fish consumption, finding alternate sources of long-chain omega-3 fats.
- Encourage healthy, sustainable eating through the reintroduction of public sector catering in schools and hospitals.
Dr. Alicja Baczynska said: "It is unacceptable that the NHS is collapsing under the weight of chronic disease, the majority of which could be prevented and treated by addressing diet and lifestyle factors.” "An increasing number of NHS doctors and staff are frustrated and disillusioned by the prevailing healthcare system, which acts to treat chronic illness rather than prevent it in the first place. Many are now turning to a field of medicine termed 'lifestyle medicine' in which illness is prevented, treated, and oftentimes reversed by addressing the root cause; that is diet and lifestyle."
Dr. Shireen Kassam added: "A key part of this is reducing our consumption of animal products and processed foods, which increase the incidence of chronic disease. These underlying health conditions are associated with an increased risk of dying from infections such as COVID-19. While it is a concern for everyone, communities of lower socio-economic means and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by diets high in processed foods and animal products, with healthy, affordable food often less accessible.
"We are a diverse group of NHS staff, many of whom have worked for decades in a healthcare system that provides a sticking plaster approach to dealing with chronic disease rather than addressing the social and lifestyle determinants of health, which have the ability for far greater benefits for the nation’s physical and mental health and well-being."
This plea from the concerned healthcare workers urges for an overhaul of the current healthcare system, to promote better health through lifestyle changes to be reactive and preventive using diet as a key tool, which is an approach that is backed by science. Their proposal includes taxing high fat, processed and salted foods, plus a ban on junk food advertising, alongside subsidies to support the UK population adopting a predominantly whole food plant based diet, among other suggestions which will support both human and planetary health alike.
To be clear, plant based is not the same as being vegan, nor is it necessarily vegetarian, think of it as being flexitarian as in being flexible. Plant based is primarily whole foods such as fruits and vegetables but does include meat, while avoiding processed foods and products that are refined. Plant based consists mostly of foods derived from plants such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, with some animal products. A whole food plant based diet has been shown to afford major health benefits including weight management, disease prevention, and a lighter environmental footprint.
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