March 17, 2021 — This year’s Fizz Free campaign, led by Sugar Smart (part of Sustain), focused on health and climate, highlighting the impact of carbonated beverages on carbon footprint, land loss and biodiversity , water loss and plastic pollution. Following the campaign, Vera Zakharov, local action coordinator at Sustain, reflects on how holistic thinking goes beyond health and planetary health.
Planetary and personal health are not just competing agendas for policymakers to compromise on – the network of partnerships and alliances for Sustainable Food Places shows daily through projects, activities and local political work that the best interventions are for both public health as well as are beneficial for ecological health.
Zakharov shows other ways to link the agendas of public health, climate and nature conservation.
Prioritizing public and environmental health
In her few years working on the Sugar Smart campaign, Zakharov has seen public health teams embrace and implement this holistic mindset.
“On a personal level, I see the effects of the junk food industry on our environment on a daily basis as I walk past my local forests and wild urban fringes clogged with chocolate wrappers and empty soft drink bottles, only to see bus stop advertisements are a few steps further for the same products, ”she explains.
“While the Lancet and others have clarified the case that climate change needs to be mitigated in the interests of human health, the focus is less on the need to address the drivers of diet-related diseases in the interests of their health, including planetary influences. It seems to be about time. “
Climate change in the spotlight
In 2019, Sustain declared a climate and natural emergency. As part of his previous campaigns, including Sugar Smart, Sustain identified ways his work can address the climate and nature.
“This year, despite unprecedented challenges for local authorities, we have come together to get our messages across, reach new audiences while recognizing their role in improving the climate.
Zakharov says there is no better time to take on this role than now, as the UK prepares to host the November COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow and numerous councils declare a climate and natural emergency of their own.
“It is more important than ever that public health policies and actions also help us achieve our climate and nature goals,” she continues.
“Beyond Fizz Free February, there are other ways that local practitioners, policymakers, and community activists can join forces to improve both the health and sustainability of our food system.”
The refill “Revolution”
Since the start of the Sugar Smart Campaign, local areas have linked sugar reduction to increased access to public drinking water, including drinking fountains and water refills in businesses and venues.
British campaigns in Bristol, Newcastle and Barnet to name a few have partnered with local refill teams to promote the many benefits of choosing tap water as the best drinking option.
This has brought public health practitioners together with environmental activists in the community, bringing together a more diverse cohort of communities under a common goal. It’s the kind of synergy that Sustain and Sustainable Food Places see as central to a good food movement.
As lockdown restrictions on COVID-19 wear off and people reconnect to their public spaces, consumers can make up for lost time by getting back to work on the 50 Fountains Challenge and Refill, especially in the lead up to World Refill Day on June 16.
Zakharov said the success of banning junk food advertisements on the London transport network has resulted in similar guidelines that have been implemented in a growing number of councils.
More recently, Bristol has joined these ranks, becoming the first local authority outside London to restrict ads and promotions for high-fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products.
Working on this directive has strengthened the links between the Council and the AdBlock Bristol campaign at the grassroots level, which helped establish a public mandate for the directive, and further encouraged the Council to include ads promoting high-carbon products such as cars .
In the meantime, the UK has proposed various guidelines to keep the public healthier, such as banning television advertising of HFSS food after 9pm.
Removing HFSS foods from promotions and checkouts has also been proposed but has not yet been put into effect.
The British lobby group Action on Sugar agrees that the pricing policy could be extended to other categories.
Efforts to reduce obesity in the UK were recently highlighted for World Obesity Day earlier this month. The government invested £ 100 million ($ 139 million) in improving healthy weights.
By Elizabeth Green
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