THE coronavirus pandemic has 'exposed the devastating consequences' of diet-related disease, suggesting efforts to promote healthy eating have been 'too late', a study has said.

The Broken Plate report shows the disparities in the country’s food system, revealing high levels of inequality which are damaging the nation’s health.

It examined 10 different areas and tracked progress since 2017, and includes recommendations for the Government to protect the most vulnerable communities.

Among the Broken Plate report’s findings were that 45 local authorities in England had seen more than a five per cent increase in the proportion of food outlets that are unhealthy takeaways, with a relationship between fast food chains and levels of deprivation.

Blackburn with Darwen Council had the highest percentage (39 per cent) of outlets that were fast food takeaways for the second year running.

A Council Spokesperson said: “The pandemic has clearly been very difficult for us all but we are steadfast in our determination to continue the fight to end food poverty locally. We continue to take steps to amend the planning process to help us restrict new takeaway applications where necessary.

"And, despite the challenges presented by Covid-19, we are still working hard on our local obesity programme which aims to support takeaways to provide a healthier food offer via the revamped Recipe 4 Health scheme.

"BwD’s Food Resilience Alliance is also actively engaged in improving our local food environment to ensure the whole borough has access to healthier, sustainable food – and we will be launching a new food charter in the next few weeks.”

The report found the poorest 20 per cent of UK households would need to spend 39 per centof their disposable income after housing costs in order to afford a healthy diet in line with the Eatwell Guide.

Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation, said: “The Broken Plate provides us with 10 vital signs of whether our food system is helping us to live healthier lives.

“Covid has exposed the devastating consequences of diet-related disease, showing that efforts to shift our food system in favour of healthy eating have been too little, too late.

“Leaving citizens to swim against the tide of a system which favours unhealthy eating is no longer an option.

“Change is possible, and we have seen improvements in three of our ten metrics, but it requires Government and businesses to act much faster.”

Zoe Davies from Action on Salt, a non-profit group concerned with the impacts of salt, said: “Whilst it is encouraging to see that the proportion of unhealthy breakfast cereals marketed to children are decreasing – rather worryingly, the average nutrient content of these cereals hasn’t actually changed very much.

“In fact, many of these products still contain unnecessary amounts of sugar and salt and are low in fibre – not quite the nutritious kick-start to the day our children need.”