UCL Health


Assessing food policy interactions across government: A policy coherence analysis

This project will identify how DHSC policy designed to improve dietary behaviour and reduce rates of obesity.

9 February 2023


Unhealthy eating practices associated with obesity and weight gain are influenced by a range of interacting factors, including but not limited to, ease of access to unhealthy food, financial insecurity and prompts in food environments (Centre for Food Policy, 2022). These diverse drivers of dietary behaviour cross the remit of numerous government departments, from health to education and environment. However, different departments understandably have different priorities and metrics which drive their work, potentially resulting in a lack of policy coherence across government.

There are no explicit examples to date where governments have attempted to align existing and future policies to create coherence to optimise efficiency across government departments and ensure each is maximising its potential contribution to addressing obesity.

A first step in supporting the development of coherent food policy is to undertake a policy coherence analysis. There has not been research conducted on policy coherence within a UK context.

Ultimately, findings from this research will support the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in developing more coherent policy, identify desired interest of other government departments to improve coherence around health outcomes, and identify areas where action is needed to reduce policy incoherence.


The purpose of this research is to identify how DHSC policy designed to improve dietary behaviour and reduce rates of obesity (e.g., sugar reduction; increased fruit and vegetable consumption, reduced calorie intake etc) interacts with policy from other government departments; with the goal of identifying opportunities for greater policy coherence, therefore strengthening the impact of DHSC policy.

The objectives of this work are to:

1. Identify current and emerging areas of DHSC policy that focuses on both promotion of healthy eating practices and reducing rates of obesity. Then systematically map the identified DHSC policies against the lived experience policy framework

2. Identify policy areas in other government departments that influence healthy eating practices and reducing rates of obesity and map these against the lived experience policy framework

3. Work with stakeholders from third-sector, academic and other organisations to determine the degree of coherence (e.g., consistent, inconsistent or coherent) between DHSC policy and policy of other government departments (e.g., Department for Education, Environment Farming and Rural Affairs)

4. Determine what impact the degree of policy coherence across government has on DHSC’s ability to improve eating practices and reducing rates of obesity at the population level, especially in households experiencing deprivation

5. Identify areas where there could be greater policy coherence between DHSC and other government departments and outline actions that could be taken to strengthen the impact of DHSC policy


The work will be undertaken in two phases:

Phase 1: Comprehensive review of DHSC policy that aims to promote healthy eating practices and reduce rates of obesity.

The purpose of this phase is to identify current DHSC policy that aims to improve dietary behaviour or reduce rates of obesity through policy goals such as sugar reduction, calorie labelling, advertising restrictions and regulating the out-of-home sector. DHSC colleagues have already provided details of current DHSC policy. This has been complemented with a search of the DHSC government website using search terms such as ‘policy’, ‘strategy’ and ‘action plan’; and ‘obesity’, ‘healthy diets’ and ‘weight reduction’. For context, similar research conducted in South Africa identified 40 relevant policy documents.

Phase 2: Identify policy from other government departments that may influence DHSC policy

Previous work by the Centre for Food Policy has identified the 17 government departments that have responsibility for food policy within England (Appendix 1; Centre for Food Policy, 2020). Phase 2 of this research will identify policy areas in these departments which may interact with DHSC policy on dietary behaviour and obesity reduction. Due to time constraints it may be necessary to focus on a sub-set of departments, which would be agreed in advance with DHSC.


  • The project will begin in June 2022 and culminate in a policy brief published by Autumn 2023.

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The NIHR Policy Research Unit in Healthy Weight is part of the NIHR and hosted by UCL.