/ Food & Drink, Health

The government’s Responsibility Deal – is it good for our health?

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?

Comments
Guest
Monika says:
15 March 2012

While I applaud this belated initiative by Which? I do wonder – Is calorie counting really the best way forward? I don’t think it’s done much good so far and fails to recognise some of the more important issues about the nutritional QUALITY of foods we’re consuming. All calories are not equal. Sorry to bring up the issue of Nutrition again, Which?, but these things are all connected. As suggested in the Nutrition conversation, Nutritional Therapists working alongside GPs in the NHS just might be of help in this matter….. *hunkers down to wait for NT-skeptic responses* 🙂

Guest
Monika says:
15 March 2012

Why calorie counting may not be the way forward.

Guest

I’d agree with the premise that calorie counting is not really the way forward in tackling obesity, but could be better resolved by education, food choices, and self-discipline.

There is a school of thought that believes that much overeating is caused by a lack of nutrients within the diet, as is the case with many processed foods, and which in turn keeps the body in a constant state of hunger to satiate this desire; eating nutrient dense but low calorie foods would satisfy the body nutritionally, and therefore curb appetite/hunger, preventing overeating and therefore obesity.

I recall a case not so long ago of a well known breakfast-cereal manufacturer who came up with the idea of adding something to their food-products which would bypass the appestat in the brain; this would encourage consumers (hopefully) to eat more of their food products and increase their profit margins; this was exposed by one of their food scientists who had worked on the project, and who was subsequently sacked.

Food corporations have much to answer for in my opinion.

Guest

I know a couple of people who ask for a child’s portion when they have a pub meal. Perhaps offering smaller portions might be better than calorie counts, especially if prices are lower.

Guest
Lex says:
23 March 2012

I completely agree! I am one of those people that will generally ask for a smaller or child size portion. I have come across some places that have age restrictions on the child’s portion sizes though (generally under 10 years). I can imagine this is so people spend more money! Can you imagine the food waste taken out at the end of the day if lots of people, like me, only eat small portions but are forced to order a large size!

Guest
Sophie Gilbert says:
16 March 2012

I think it’s fine to ask food manufacturers and restaurants to voluntarily add calorie counts (Monika has a point re calories though; info re solely calories is insufficient) and help tackle the nation’s obesity crisis, but I don’t believe for a moment that they can generally be relied upon to do so.

I also think, however, that we must take responsibility for what we eat and use our own brains a little. Unless we are very ill and lying in bed somewhere fighting for our lives, nobody is forcefeeding us, especially not junk food in grotesque quantities.

Guest
Olga Miller says:
16 March 2012

I agree with sophie Gilbert that we must take responsibility for what we each. I’ve watched some of the TV shows depicting the fattest man in Britain – I have a question. To be able to eat as much as he does costs a small fortune. Who pays for the huge amount of food he consumes? I’m slim because I CAN’T afford to eat so much.

Guest
Sam says:
16 March 2012

Where is the evidence to support the national dietary guidelines that obese people should base their meals around starchy foods? Anyone know?

Guest

I do not believe that the advice for obese people differs from that for others. What is regarded as a balanced diet contains carbohydrates as the main component. The reference to starchy foods is a little misleading because starch is rapidly metabolised to produce glucose. The recommendation for starch foods is qualified by a recommendation for wholegrain foods, if possible. These are metabolised more slowly, so can help avoid produce a short-term peak in b