Healthy eating to get real support from public policy makers

Related tags Public health Nutrition

Plans to encourage Britons to eat healthier foods, published by the
UK government last week, mark a paradigm shift in the public policy
approach to health, believes a food industry consultant.

The increasing numbers of obese in the UK and growing pressure on the health service, unable to cope with the costs of chronic disease, has forced the UK government to recognize the potential of preventative measures such as a good diet.

About one-third of cancers can be attributed to poor diet and nutrition, according to government experts.

In November 2004, a 'white paper' on public health that laid out plans to curb public smoking and improve diets was called the biggest shake-up in public health for years. It was significant in its focus on prevention of illness, rather than treatment and care for the sick.

However a white paper lays out plans to legislate without confirmation of when the laws will be brought in. Publication on Thursday of the implementation strategy for this white paper shows that the government is prepared to make a serious attempt to put these disease prevention measures in place, says Chris Whitehouse.

"The white paper on public health published last year set out the government's objectives for improving public health, but many feared it was heavy on good intentions and weak on detail,"​ he explained.

"The implementation strategy however puts the meat on the bones. If the government is serious about delivering the work plan set out, and I believe it is because it has to be, then these papers mark a pardigm shift in the approach to be taken,"​ Whitehouse said.

He added that the approach could become a model for adoption by the European Union, which is also struggling to address spiralling public health costs throughout its member states.

Whitehouse has produced a detailed analysis of the impact and timetables for action of last week's new policy documents on the food and drink sector.

"We will see clear targets set and monitored every six months, we will see new legislation, new regulation, new mobilisation of resources, and real results. For the first time the NHS will become a national health service instead of a national sickness service,"​ he argues.

The white paper is set to have a major impact on the food industry, increasingly being held responsible for obesity and obesity-related disease.

It includes plans to introduce a ban on all television advertising for 'junk foods' targeted at children and changes to the way food products are labelled. The white paper proposes for example a 'traffic light' labelling system that identifies unhealthy foods with a red label, nutritious but high-fat foods, such as cheese, with an orange label and healthy choices with green.

The bill also aims to increase the average fruit and vegetable consumption to five portions a day, from the current 2.8 portions, and up fibre intake to 18 grams per day. Salt, saturated fat and added sugar must in turn be reduced.

These measures are designed to help the government reach goals set out in the paper, including a reduction in mortality rates from cancer by at least 20 per cent by 2010, a 40 per cent reduction in deaths from heart disease and stroke, and an end to the year-on-year rise in obesity among children under 11 during the same timeframe.

Whitehouse claims the food sector needs to get involved in dialogue with policy makers to ensure that the changes are beneficial to trade.

"The whole sector is set for a shake up. Wake up and smell the coffee and get involved in the dialogue if you want to influence the debate, is my warning."

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