/ Food & Drink, Health

Will the government’s obesity strategy work? Fat chance!

The government’s new call to action on obesity places the food industry as the driver for slimming England’s waistlines. Is that really going to be effective? We need regulatory change, not vague half measures.

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, wants the country’s calorie intake to be reduced by five billion calories a day ‘to help close the crucial imbalance between energy in and energy out’ and has decided the best way to do this is leave it to the food industry to reduce calories in their products.

So, let me get this straight – the companies that have the most to gain from us consuming more calories than we need are now the custodians of helping us to eat less?! Members of the House of Lords recently likened this arrangement to ‘letting Dracula advise on blood bank security’ and I’m afraid I have to agree.

Don’t leave it to the food industry

Industry self-regulation has proved to be a successful tactic in achieving change where legislation is an inappropriate solution to the problem. This is the case with some pollution problems where legislation can’t keep up. But you only need to look at the banking industry to see that self-regulation doesn’t always work – in fact it can prove woefully inadequate.

And it’s not that legislation’s always the solution – there are a whole range of government interventions that can be used instead. But wouldn’t a bit of leadership and direction be a good thing?

When it comes to reversing the ‘tide of obesity’, I think letting an industry that has made millions on the back of our increased addiction to high-calorie foods won’t bring about the most effective results. I’m not saying that the industry doesn’t have a role to play, its commitment to the issue is essential. Yet, when there are such obvious regulatory changes that could be made too, I don’t know why the government doesn’t try out a mix of methods.

“Ambitions” are all very well, but unless you provide tangible plans on how you can meet them, they’re just pipe dreams. The Dane’s decision to introduce a tax on foods high in saturated fat caused uproar last week. I’m not saying this is the best way to tackle obesity, but I’m sure if we had to pay more for fatty foods we’d start looking for healthier options. And at least the Danish government is taking real action on the obesity problem.

Our appetite for change

So what are the other ways to get us eating healthily? You may have noticed that calorie labelling has crept onto the menus of some food chains. At last count, 40 food outlets had voluntarily signed up, but that still leaves hundreds of chains without them. Making this compulsory for all chains would be one way the government could help.

The government could also settle the age-old confusion with front-of-pack nutrition labelling. We’ve long called for traffic lights to be used on labels so people can work out what’s in their food, yet we’re still faced with a myriad of different options depending on where you do our weekly shop or which brands you buy.

So Mr Lansley, if you’re serious about curbing the tide of obesity, you need to do more than just let the food giants decide what will work best. There are plenty of options to complement industry’s involvement, so why don’t you give them a chance? After all, isn’t that what being in government is about?

Comments
Member

Its really down to the individual to control their calorie intake.
The information is out there for those who want it.

Its convincing those who don’t control their food intake that they need to that is the problem.

More labelling, compulsory nutritional information on all restaurants and food outlets will have an insignificant effect on the population as a whole.
However educating youngsters – calorie labelling on school meals – may well be a good long-term solution. It seems to be working for recycling – school kids seem very aware of recycling issues and do bring their awareness home.

Member

Risky extreme sports, casual sex, driving large petrol consuming cars, football or rugby injuries, crossing roads while using a mobile, starting wars in another country, aggressive driving, sailing long distances in small yachts in high seas, rock climbing, incompetent medical interventions, gun users, home made tattoos, DIY activity.

There is no need to highlight any one issue, everybody has an opinion on something that they don’t like someone else doing. When the government and the medical profession join in, it smacks of bullying, shifting blame and diversionary tactics from focusing on government activity to the activities of individuals. Divide and rule.

Will the next campaign be a big vice which is yours? Just leave people alone to get on with their lives without a nanny on their shoulder.

Member

Is this really a Government initiative endorsed by the cabinet ?
Does Eric Pickles agree ??

Member

All the political parties have completely missed the boat.

Uphold the rights of the individual and come down hard on those businesses that fail to abide. Trust me, after one or two cases, the industry will soon get the message.
It’s not just about calories, its what is going into our food chain.
We have rigorous food laws in the UK, backed up/duplicated in some areas by the EU.
What is the point of having protections in place, when businesses are able to bypass them with ease?

As I’ve posted before on these boards, an apple from the 80s and earlier, is not the same as an apple today.
Apple’s today, supermarket ones especially can be anything upto a year old before they reach the shelf. Many are grown abroad, in places without our food laws, covered in gas waxes, fed with chemicals to bloat them, etc.
Then they are shipped half way around the world (carbon emissions anyone!) chilled and stored for months, across continents, packaged in bags in the UK, and because this is considered a “major change” to the product, they are permitted to be labelled “british”

Do the government know what’s going into these apples and other foods made, grown and processed abroad?

Do I trust self regulation? Not one jot!
In every area where self regulation has been introduced, the customer loses out and ways to bypass the “regulation” are used, which isnt hard, as the same businesses are setting the rules….
If the minister wants an example, next time he’s in the supermarket, read the back of a tin of hotdogs;
MRM (mechanically reclaimed meat – ie, guts ears veins, everything you WOULDN’T eat, etc) has seen a dramatic rewording in recents months as the products on the shelf have had packaging changes.

I read about a high street “bakers” (I use that term loosely) a few months ago, who had their sausage rolls examined, and were found to contain less than 14% sausage meat, the excuse given was to keep costs down and allow cheaper food for people.
Is it good for obesity or our food chain for thousands of people to be eating a sausage roll everyday, where 86% of its ingredients are unknown or require lab tests to find out whats in them?

Give powers back to the food standards agency, uphold our own food laws (so that our own MPs can be accountable for the job) protecting the individual, businesses have shown they cannot be trusted.
Hit the problem at source, ie, before it gets to the supermarket shelf or the restaurant plate, the NHS, our health and the nations pockets will be alot better for doing so.

Member

I agree James Whale on LBC [ 4 pm ] had good discussions on this last week at George Galloway on talksport [ friday 10pm] . The labelling is ridiculous often too complicated & can’t be read as type too small. Discovered from my urologist over 14 tspns of sugar in cranberry juice- – let alone fizzy drinks.Laws & taxes need to restrict use of chemicals,hormones, transfats & additives.As well as advertising Anyone of any intelligence must know it is not quite so simple as if you have many health problems such as hormones& allergies obesity come with it as can’t exercise.What comes first chicken or the egg?

Member

Always so ironic when someone bemoans a lack of intelligence and then gives the chicken and egg cliche.

If the theory of evolution is anything to go by, the egg came first 😉

I generally agree with your opinion though 🙂

Member

I don’t think that regulation will work, though it would help, unless this cuts down portion sizes for ready meals, restaurants and fast food outlets.

What could work is television advertising that shows complications of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to the increase in obesity. It would not be very pleasant for those who have diabetes through no fault of their own, but could demonstrate the need for good control of the condition, whatever the cause.

Member

Could it be the case that many chemicals added to our food chain, when they are grown/processed outside of UK food laws are increasing the cases of diabetes? Could this in turn, be adding to the cases of obesity?

Businesses told us that food grown/processed abroad was to keep costs down, despite food prices rocketing.
I remember the problems with eggs we had from european imports recently, is there really any need to import so many egg yolks to be used in ready meals? How can our food regulations be upheld and do the job they were set up to do, if there are so many blatent avoidances?

What is disappointing me the most is the failure by all MPs and their committees, to spot what ever man and his dog can see, that by tackling issues in food chain supply, will save millions for the NHS in reduced cases and costs, resulting in a better quality of life for more people. This is exactly what we elect them to do!