/ Food & Drink, Health

A taste for change – is the Responsibility Deal working?

Female shopping in a supermarket

In this letter to public health minister Anna Soubry, we call on the government to ensure retailers and food manufacturers take greater responsibility for providing healthy food choices.

Dear Minister,

The UK is facing a public health crisis. Around one quarter of people are now obese and diet related illnesses, such as cancers, heart disease and strokes, are the major killers.

Which? research shows that nine out of 10 of us want to eat more healthily, but many people say they have difficulty putting this into practice.

As you know, the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal was set up to challenge the food industry to take a greater role in tackling this major problem. It relies on a series of voluntary pledges, an approach the previous health secretary said would bring about better results, and faster, than legislation.

But our new research finds that the Responsibility Deal’s voluntary approach is not delivering on its promises; for example three of the top 10 supermarkets, serving millions of people, have still not signed up to the calorie reduction pledge.

The existing pledges do not include enough clear targets for companies to aim for, and there are no pledges to tackle important areas such as saturated fat reduction, and responsible marketing and promotions.

We are at a watershed moment. You have come into this role at a time when you can make a real improvement to the nation’s health but urgent action is needed to meet this challenge.

The pace of change among food companies must be dramatically increased and to drive this, the government should set out a much more ambitious approach. Which? urges you to incentivise companies to go further and faster by naming and shaming companies that under-perform. Ultimately, you should be prepared to bring in legislation where voluntary action fails.

Which? looks forward to working with you to make this happen. Millions of consumers expect nothing less.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lloyd, Which? Executive Director


Obesity is food addiction similar to alcohol, tobacco and drug addiction and therefore needs serious attention by Anna Soubry.Once obesity is attained all the evidence indicates that reducing weight significantly and stopping regaining weight is very difficult.This is consistent with the theory that the appetite centre in the brain of obese people has lost the ability to recognise satiety. This is a massive problem for the NHS.The great majority of obese people don’t realise the serious health risks they carry.Perhaps food rationing was not such a bad idea after all.. Should it be reconsidered?

Why is it that we approach these issues oin the basis that all individuals are unable to make a responsible choice and that we expect the state to intervene, or legislation to be necessary? Educate people on how to make better choices, and the market will have to respond if the “unhealthy” food is avoided. But unhealthy is relative – it is the overconsumption of unhealthy food that is the problem, not the occasional consumption so, if you are not careful, you hit the sensible eaters. The same happens with alcohol – moderate consumption is OK, but over-consumption is harmful.
We are somewhat selective about these issues; why do we not petition for tobacco to be banned for example – but then we should all be capable of deciding whether to use it or not for ourselves, knowing the risks.

The government needs to act on the obesity epidemic because as stated in the first entry it is an addiction.resulting in resetting of basic brain activity.ie the appetite centre no longer recognises satiety which is wonderful for the food industry.

par ailleurs says:
10 December 2012

Forget food manufacturers. Do what you like and they’ll find weasel words to get round restrictions. Go back to basics and teach children to cook, both at home-by example-and as a compulsory curriculum addition at school right through to leaving age.
If we could just produce a generation that realised that home cooking is fun, relaxing, creative and healthy then we’d be fine again. You don’t have to eat a boring fun-free diet either. A sensible diet has room for everything…in moderation!

We can and should push food manufacturers and retailers to provide more healthy choices but they are only part of the problem.

Parents perhaps have the greatest opportunity to help children develop healthy eating behaviour. That includes eating sensible amounts, avoiding eating between meals and not eating too much unhealthy food. In my 40s I learned that my mother had discouraged me from taking sugar in hot drinks and she rarely bought sweetened soft drinks. This is probably why I find sweetened drinks unpleasantly sweet and still avoid them.

Most people eat out far more than was common in the middle of the last century and eating out usually means large portions. It’s fairly obvious that customers want good value for money or they will not come back. I wish my mother had not brought me up to eat everything on my plate.

Supermarkets have provided us with an endless variety of food that requires little or no preparation, and enticed us to buy more than we need. Some prepared food has a short ‘use by’ date and to avoid waste, we may eat more than we need.

Even those who are trying to help seem intent on pushing us to eat more. For example, the message is to eat more fruit & veg. It should be to replace part of what we are already eating with fruit & veg.

Eleanor McGee says:
10 January 2013

I think manufacturers and retailers need to be challenged on portion sizes. A packet of crisps used to weigh 28g, then it went to 30 or 35g, but most places now seem to only stock “grab bags”, weighing 45g. This is not choice. Anyone who has been to the cinema recently will be conscious of this super-sizing of food, leading to a super size population.

I have noticed that supermarkets are offering 150 g bags of crisps at three for the price of two. The portion size may be greater than you fear.