Scan, Swipe & Swap! The NHS Food Scanner App

Healthy Diet

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions affected all areas of life around the world. From travel plans to education, wellbeing and what and how we ate.

Research now shows that we ended up buying and consuming more food in the last two years than before. In fact, a recent survey revealed that more than 4 in 10 adults in England (41%) put on weight since the start of lockdown in March 2020. Not surprisingly, our children have not escaped from this vicious circle either.

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) latest data has showed a record rise in obesity among children since the start of the pandemic, with the latest data highlighting that one in four (27.7 per cent) children of reception school age are living with overweight or obesity; this raised to four in ten (40.9 per cent) in Year 6 (ages 10 to 11).

The challenge

Children who are living with overweight or obesity are more likely to have days off school and to be bullied. If we can encourage children to make healthier choices now, we know that this can make a huge difference to their long-term health too.

Evidence shows that the pandemic exacerbated already established barriers to eating healthily and prompted eating and buying behaviours that have persisted post-lockdown. These issues range from family routines being disrupted to having too much conflicting advice for parents on diet and nutrition.

As a dietitian, I also know there are surprising amounts of sugar, saturated fat and salt in everyday food and drinks we give our kids, but I also know how hard it can be for parents to find healthier snacks, especially if their kids are fussy eaters.  

What is the Food Scanner App?

To combat unhealthy eating in children and help parents make better food choices for them the DHSC have relaunched a Better Health Campaign with a new NHS Food Scanner at is heart. The free app provides parents with the ideal hack to improve their children’s health as we begin this new year.

With a simple scan of the barcodes, families can see how much sugar, saturated fat, and salt is in everyday food and drinks. The App suggests healthier swaps, by encouraging users to choose “Good Choice” products - there are thousands of Good Choice food and drink products you can swap to. Simply scan, swipe, swap!

Do simple swaps help?

Being a dietitian, I would want everyone eating a diet that is based on predominately based on whole food, however as a nation we are very far from being there. So, making small swaps as encouraged by the Food Scanner app is a good way to nudge the nation in the right direction.

  • Simply swapping a higher-sugar yoghurt (like a split pot yoghurt which can have on average six sugar cubes) to a lower-sugar yoghurt (which can have on average 3 sugar cubes) can halve the sugar your child gets from yoghurts whilst still keeping them happy.  
  • Cut out 50 cubes of sugar by swapping from a higher-sugar box of cereal to a low sugar box of cereal. 

Article written for the BDA by Dr Linia Patel (PhD, RD).

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