In Conversation With… Ali Morpeth

‘In conversation with…’ is a series of blog posts where I’ll be talking to inspirational people working in the world of food policy.

Today’s ‘in conversation with’ features Ali Morpeth. Ali is a Registered Public Health Nutritionist and works with organisations across the food system on healthy and sustainable diets. Ali and I worked on projects together in early years nutrition and she always saves me a seat at conferences! 

What keeps you awake at night in the world of food policy? 

Oh, lots of things. I’ve not known anything like the last two years for the whole time I’ve worked in food – deepening health inequalities and rapidly accelerating food related illnesses and climate change.  I know I am preaching to the converted, Dayna, but it’s worth a re-cap for your readers that the government has made three big policy commitments relating to food consumption – to halve childhood obesity, extend healthy life years by five and deliver net zero. We have seen very little implementation in any of these policy areas. And where we have seen some movement, there have been a series of rollbacks and U turns. I’m sure most people are familiar with the delays to HFSS implementation, but I was equally disappointed that the babyfood and drink guidelines were downgraded from mandatory to voluntary (we know voluntary policies have little success). 

However, I don’t spend lots of time focussing on the problems. I constantly talk to my kids about living with a solution-focussed mindset and this is the approach I bring to my work. Ultimately, I’m always looking for ways forward. I have met some amazing people in the last few years by actively looking for people who want to find solutions in turbulent waters and partner with them. I really believe our sector is full of incredible change makers.  

I know it’s early in 2024, but what have you done this year that you’re proud of? 

Oh, you are leading with some big questions today!  

The work we did on bringing together organisations to create a joint policy brief on early years nutrition was good, wasn’t it? It’s difficult to get different organisations to cement a series of joint policy asks to government. The work we have done on this feels really positive and the fact Andrea Leadsom and Ministers are receiving the briefing is a good sign.   

What are you hoping for in this election year? 

A change in government! Is this blog meant to be a-political?!  

I would like to see all political parties commit to bold, effective (sub-text: mandatory) action on the impact the food system is having on ill health, society, economies and the planet. This starts with placing the food system at the centre of manifesto commitments, and individual MPs and Ministers committing to ask their party leaders to address food systems harms.  

What new fact or stat did you learn recently about food policy that’s blown your mind? 

7 out of 10 of the biggest food and drink manufacturers make most of their profit from selling unhealthy products (that’s in Bite Back’s new report, BTW). I still find it staggering that we live in a society where there are so few guardrails on food manufacturing, food marketing and unhealthy sales that this business model is accepted as the status quo. Meanwhile, 1 in 3 children are facing a future living with food related illness.  

What food book have you read which had an impact on how you do your work? 

Am I allowed to say the National Food Strategy! This is such an incredible example of bringing together evidence on the food system. It lays out a series of clear and evidence-based policy asks which can fix the future of food. I still think we have a good chance of moving on the recommendations within the next parliament (at least, I hope).  

What three policies would you implement if you were in charge? 

I’ve got to pick 3?! OK here goes:  

1. STOP unhealthy food marketing by implementing the existing commitments to restrict unhealthy food marketing on TV and online. As part of this policy, I would extend marketing restrictions so that child-appealing marketing, like cartoon characters, are not permitted on unhealthy foods. This would be applied to ALL foods aimed at children, including infant foods, which are currently falling through a policy blackhole.  

On the flip side, as marketing is so effective at driving behaviours, I’d invest in marketing of healthy and sustainable foods (especially options like fruit, vegetables and pulses) to position these foods as desirable and help re-craft our food environments and social norms away from unhealthy foods (some great work is already being done by Veg Power on this). 

2. Extend the reach of fiscal policies that work. Use the success of the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) to introduce further fiscal measures to create a level playing field for industry and incentivise the development and sale of healthier foods. We have good evidence on impact from the SDIL including ring fencing funds to spend on public health measures. What are we waiting for?  

3. Invest in children’s nutrition. Immediately implement universal free school meals (with auto-enrollment, so eligible children receive what they are entitled to). This should be implemented for primary and secondary school children to improve the next generation’s diet, health and attainment. We should also expand eligibility, improve uptake and increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to provide nutritional security nets in the preschool years, and extend the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme so all primary school children can benefit. These policies are no brainers.  

4. I’m sneaking in a fourth – we are in a climate emergency so let me have this one – make it easier to eat sustainably. We should immediately strengthen our public procurement so in all public institutions where food is served – think hospitals, schools and prisons – food is both healthy and sustainable. I would also extend the policy on sustainable food by introducing mandatory reporting for large food companies on metrics outlined in the National Food Strategy, including sales of protein by type (meat, dairy, fish, plant or alternative protein).  

And finally, what’s for dinner? 

Lemon chickpea stew! We have a running joke in our house that I use chickpeas in all our meals. I load it with chillies and handfuls of green herbs. Love it. 

I hope you enjoyed ‘In conversation with’, next month we’ll be hearing from Louis Bedwell – who will tell us more about what it’s like to work with impact investment, and accelerating growth for mission-driven ideas in the world of food.  

1 thought on “In Conversation With… Ali Morpeth”

  1. Wow, 100% agree on that sneaky fourth point. It’s something I’ve been discussing with Greener NHS with a view to a pilot study on the potential to transform the UK’s food and farming sectors future while simultaneously improving public health.
    The gains to be had are enormous, from reduced spending addressing the health impacts created by the high cost and poor access to good food, to improved biodiversity and habitats through better land management.
    Every politician standing in this years elections should adopt all four policies and, if they don’t, they should be asked why not!

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