Last month, I took part in Fizz Free February to highlight the health issues associated with sugary and fizzy drinks. These include increased dental problems, obesity and diabetes, especially among children. In Bristol, more than half of adults and more than a third of children in Year Six are overweight or obese. Almost a quarter of kids in the city have at least one decayed, missing, or filled tooth. And more than a fifth of added sugar intake for 11-18 year olds comes from sugary soft drinks.
Bristol was one of the first places to achieve Sugar Smart City status two years ago, and the Council has since been running the Bristol Eating Better Awards to help local restaurants and takeaway to offer healthier options. We’re also looking to increase the exclusion zone around schools and youth clubs for new fast food places through the review of the Local Plan. One public-spirited local business in Southmead has installed a water fountain outside, which is also a good deal for the planet as it encourages the use of refillable bottles and cutting down on single-use plastics. Water is always the healthiest option, and should also always be the cheapest and easiest.
I was happy to meet with Labour’s North West MP Darren Jones and Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who also took part in the initiative, at Southmead Hospital at the end of February. Celebrity chefs have also backed Fizz Free and Sugar Smart and Tom has managed to reverse his own type 2 diabetes as a result of improving his health through diet and exercise. It was great to hear that the hospital has reduced the amount of sugary drinks sold, and meet NHS staff at Southmead about the work they’re doing to tackle these issues, but the scale of the problem is still shocking. I also encouraged the NHS to stay involved in our joined-up work across Bristol through the One City Plan.
For people in the poorest parts of Bristol these problems and health inequalities are at their most acute. Food deserts – where there are limited options for fresh, healthy and affordable produce – still exist in the city. Some on social media made jokes when I opened a new supermarket recently, but access to a better food at cheaper prices and jobs which pay a real Living Wage are not sniffed at for a second by most Bristolians.
All of this isn’t to say that – as part of a balanced diet – the occasional fizzy drink or sugary snack isn’t ok. They are, but it doesn’t do anyone any harm to be more mindful about what we eat and drink. And policy-makers have a real duty to try to encourage healthier choices.