World Obesity Day: Improving Food Environments for Young People in the UK

Becky Odoi

My name is Becky Odoi. I’m 18, I live in London and I am Chair of the Bite Back 2030 London Youth Board. Bite Back is a youth-led movement campaigning to improve child health in the UK and reform a food system that is rigged against us. 

Today is a very important day for us - it’s World Obesity Day. 

Right now, our highstreets are flooded with junk food, our school canteens don't have enough healthy options, and we are swamped with junk food advertising. It’s overwhelming. 

Relentless advertising for unhealthy products is an issue that people my age living in London can’t escape. I find myself surrounded by adverts for unhealthy food everytime I go outside, whether that be seeing my friends, going out to eat and even going to and from school. This is a big problem, especially as junk food advertising and the vast amount of unhealthy fast food options flooding our streets are a huge contributor to the obesity rates in our country; in the UK, 1 in 3 young people are overweight by the time they leave primary school. 

Becky Odoi

Young people want to make a difference, and those of us who are part of Bite Back 2030’s London Youth Board are campaigning to end all junk food advertising in publicly-owned spaces across the city. We’ve written to every London council and shared pictures that we took of the huge number of fast food adverts we see every day in an effort to get them to prioritise child health. 

I’ve also worked with the UK charity Nesta who conducted research and found that over 70% of the food and drink marketed towards young people was deemed unhealthy. And we know that billions of pounds are spent on giving junk food the starring role in our minds. This is a direct threat to the health of our society, and this is why it is so important that we are given the voice and platform to fight for our health and that of all youths, no matter where they live.

Improving child health is at the core of Bite Back’s mission, as we aim to create an environment where all young people have access to regular, nutritious meals and are given a choice on the food they consume – not being limited by poor options or having to make sacrifices to their welfare due to healthy food being inaccessible or too expensive. 

As young people, the ones who are most affected by this food system, it’s our duty to tell fast food companies and the people in charge that we deserve better.

At Bite Back we’ve already had some big wins, including the removal of junk food advertising on public transport in London, and most recently having the Government promise to enforce school food standards, ensuring that nutritious meals are available everyday at school, for all students. This was thanks to our work last summer on our Spill the Beans report, when we spoke to school students and uncovered worrying inequalities across the country. 

Together we are stronger. As young people, the ones who are most affected by this food system, it’s our duty to tell fast food companies and the people in charge that we deserve better; that it’s time to give the spotlight to healthy food, and in doing that we can secure the future of our health.