Obesity costs the NHS around £5bn per year. The government’s ‘Responsibility Deal’ aims to tackle this national emergency. But is it working? One year on we examine whether it’s having an impact.
This week marks the first anniversary of the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal. The idea is to encourage voluntary actions by the food industry to help people make healthier choices.
So far, companies have been asked to sign up to pledges to reduce salt in foods, remove trans fats and display information about calories in restaurants. A new pledge is also being launched to encourage companies to help people reduce their calorie intake.
How responsible are restaurants?
Which? has just done an assessment of what the Deal’s achieved so far. While work on salt reduction is good news, it’s quite limited as there are no plans to make further reductions beyond 2012.
It’s good that companies are taking trans fats out of foods, but a lot of this work had been done already and there’s no clear plan around targeting smaller food companies that might still be using them.
More progress has been made on providing calories in chain restaurants with companies such as McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks displaying the information nationwide. But there’s still very limited commitment from the main restaurant and pub chains.
The cost of the obesity crisis
With over a quarter of people obese in the UK (we’re the worst in Europe) and an estimated cost to the NHS of over £5 billion a year, the government’s response is totally inadequate.
The food industry clearly has an important role to play – but isn’t it obvious that it’s going to have different and sometimes conflicting interests? While regulation isn’t always the answer, the government has to start showing leadership in this area if we are ever going to turn around rates of obesity and diet-related diseases.
When we discussed calorie counts in McDonalds, Wavechange was all for it:
‘Food chains should provide the same nutritional information as supermarkets. Fat, sugar and sodium content are particularly important.’
Bev Allen told us she wasn’t surprised that restaurants were reluctant:
‘They are fully aware of how high some items are and know that seeing it in black and white will definitely put some people off buying it.’
What do you think? Can food manufacturers and restaurants be relied upon to voluntarily add calorie counts and help tackle the nation’s obesity crisis? Or do we need a stronger plan from the government to help us cast off the calories?