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Ethnic minorities and communities of lower socio-economic means are ‘disproportionately affected by diets high in processed foods and animal products’, according to an NHS doctor, who says healthy, affordable food is often less accessible to these groups.

Dr. Shireen Kassam is the founder of non-profit organization Plant Based Health Professionals UK and a consultant hematologist.

She made the comments as part of a campaign she is leading alongside Dr. Alicja Baczynska, a specialist registrar in geriatric medicine – in which they and more than 100 other NHS doctors are calling  on the government to implement new legislation aimed at overhauling the healthcare system, and focusing on disease prevention.

‘Fair, sustainable, and healthy food system’

The doctors have urged the government to promote a ‘fair, sustainable, and healthy food system’ via a raft of legislative measures, and in doing so, shift the NHS focus from a reactive healthcare system to one that prevents chronic illness using diet as a key tool.

They say the UK’s current food environment is ‘fuelling an epidemic of chronic disease, within this country associated with unhealthy diets’ and that widespread dietary change ‘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’.

Taxation

Their proposals include increased taxation of high fat and salt foods, a new tax on food produced using ingredients derived from industrial animal agriculture.

They want the ban on junk food advertising to be accelerated and made total, banning such advertising even after the watershed, alongside 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.

They are calling on politicians to promote 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’, and to protect the oceans by discouraging over-fishing and reducing the reliance on fish consumption, finding alternate sources of long-chain omega-3 fats.

Finally, they want healthy, sustainable eating encouraged through the reintroduction of public sector catering in schools and hospitals.

Diet and chronic disease

In a statement sent to Plant Based News, Dr. Kassam said a key part of shifting ‘NHS focus from a reactive healthcare system to one that prevents chronic illness using diet as a key tool’ is ‘reducing our consumption of animal products and processed foods, which increase the incidence of chronic disease’.

She added: “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.”

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