Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Advisor to the Government, explains how the country can tackle obesity.
This is a guest post by Professor Dame Sally Davies. All views expressed are Sally’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
We all know that obesity is a huge problem in this country, particularly for children. One in three children are now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school and we have some of the highest levels of obesity in Europe.
We are putting our young people at risk of developing dangerous, chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease that could take years off their life.
There are many factors that have led to this crisis, but there is no doubt that our food environment makes it hard for us to choose healthier options and we are overloaded with promotions and temptations for sugary and fatty foods on a daily basis.
Recent data from Cancer Research UK shows that promotional offers are heavily skewed towards unhealthy options and encourage us to buy more of those products.
We all have a responsibility for our health, but the Government can help shape our environment to make the healthier choice, the easy choice.
Unhealthy items at checkouts
The Department of Health and Social Care is currently consulting on restricting promotions of products that are high in fat sugar and salt (HFSS) by location, for example at checkouts, and by price.
People have said loud and clear that they want healthier food to be more affordable – and supermarkets could offer healthier products on promotion such as fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, and all those foods that form part of a healthy balanced diet.
We know parents feel under pressure to buy more sugary and fatty products simply because they are strategically placed in stores.
Polling has shown that 83% of parents have been pestered by children to buy food at checkouts with 75% giving in and buying something through ‘pester power’.
I often see checkout areas stacked with chocolate and sweets, even in shops where you would not expect to find any food in the first place, like clothes shops.
In fact, new research from the UK Health Forum shows unhealthy food and drink are widely available in non-food retail environments. This is helping fuel a culture of overconsumption.
Impacting our children’s health
This is not about banning all promotions or making the shopping basket more expensive. This is about products that are high in sugar, fat and calories and therefore have an impact on our children’s health.
Therefore, the focus is only on those types of ‘volume’ promotions, such as ‘buy 2 for the price of 1’, where people buy more items to benefit from the discount. Evidence shows us that these offers make us buy over 20% more that we otherwise would have, and inevitably we consume more as a result.
Overtime, an unhealthy environment which prompts unhealthy rather than healthy actions has become dominant.
I believe we must fundamentally reposition health as the nation’s primary asset.
We can shape our environment to promote healthier choices, which reduce health inequalities, improving economic growth while helping people live healthier lives.
This proposal can really improve our environment and will have a significant impact on the health of our children in the years to come.
I encourage everyone to respond to the Government’s consultation by 6 April to make sure your views are heard.