Rising food costs after Brexit could cause increase in deaths from chronic diseases, study finds

23 October 2018

Adobe Stock_142142188_Supermarket
© Adobe Stock

A new working paper from Dr Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food finds that Britain’s exit from the EU could result in thousands more deaths from chronic diseases and healthcare-related costs of up to £600 million, due to potential changes in food imports and diets.

The study is the first to quantify the impacts that changes to the UK’s trade regime could have on consumption patterns, diet-related risk factors and mortality. Currently, half of all food consumed in the UK is imported, mainly from the EU. With its heavy dependence on imports, particularly of fruits and vegetables, any increase in trade costs can be expected to negatively impact the availability and consumption of foods that are critical components of healthy diets and chronic-disease prevention, say the authors.

Dr Springmann and his co-author Dr Florian Freund, of the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute in Germany, estimate that changes in these and other risk factors could result in 2,700-5,600 additional deaths in 2027, and additional healthcare-related costs of GBP 290-600 million.

They analysed a range of Brexit scenarios, including a soft Brexit scenario that includes a free-trade agreement with the EU with moderate increases in trade costs, and a hard Brexit scenario in which the UK falls back to the terms of the World Trade Organization and faces greater trade costs. The hard Brexit scenario showed reductions of 270,000 tonnes for vegetables and 330,000 tonnes for fruits per year, or one serving less a week of each.

Read the paper: The impacts of Brexit on agricultural trade, food consumption, and diet-related mortality in the UK