UK to spend ₤372m to combat obesity curve

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Physical activity Nutrition Obesity

The UK government unveiled the first steps it will take in its
national strategy to fight obesity, earmarking £372m for the cause.
Steps include addressing food issues, as well as increasing
education and encouraging physical activity.

According to last year's Foresight report on obesity, if current trends in the UK continue through to 2050, almost 60 per cent of the population will be classed as obese. This prediction, if it comes to pass, would result in major health and quality of life issues, and spiralling health and social care costs. reported yesterday in advance of the report's publication that the government would be calling for the adoption of one simple and consistent nutritional labelling scheme for all foods. The labelling proposal forms part of a Healthy Food Code of Practice, which will be developed in partnership with the food industry. This code will lay down a challenge to industry (not just food manufacturers, but also restaurants and other food outlets) to support individuals and families reduce consumption of saturated fat, sugar and salt. It also prompts OFCOM to bring forward its review of restrictions on broadcast advertisement of food adverts aimed at children, which were introduced in stages last year. Finally, local authorities are to be given planning powers to limit the number of fast food outlets in particular areas, such as in the vicinity of schools and parks. Insofar as it relates to the food industry, the strategy has so far been well received. Julian Hunt, communications director of the UK's Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said the body is pleased that the government is prepared to forge a genuine partnership with industry - something it the FDF has been calling for for a long time. "We look forward to meeting with the Secretary of State for Health very shortly to discuss his ideas further," he said. Hunt said he was also pleased to see recognition of the efforts already made by industry in reformulating products along healthier lines. Since the industry introduced its health and wellbeing action plan in 2004, the recipes for at least £15bn worth of food have been tweaked to have less fat, sugar and salt. A further £11.5bn worth of products have been launched in 'lower in' versions, according to the FDF. Dr Judith Bryans, director of The Dairy Council, said she was pleased that the government report looks not only at the food aspect of obesity, but also at physical activity. "Although food is part of the equation, we must be careful to ensure that the public is educated about portion sizes and the importance of eating from all food groups, including dairy, in order to stay healthy as well as achieve and maintain a healthy weight." ​ Professor J T Winkler, director of the Nutrition Policy Unit at London Metropolitan University, was unimpressed by the labelling plan, however. "It is a feeble Whitehall fantasy to claim that better labelling is key to curing Britain's obesity problems,"​ he said. "Most people do not​ read food labels, most who read them do not​ understand them, most who understand them do not​ act on them, most who act on them do not do so consistently."​ He said that to government's mindset of trying to change people's food choices is "puritanical​". It would be better, in his view, to improve the nutritional quality of the foods people already eat. Beyond promoting healthier food choices, the strategy has four other prongs to it and takes an integrated approach to tackling the obesity problem in the UK by reaching out to society at large. These are:

  • Healthy growth and development of children. This includes investing in schools to up physical education activity and cooking lessons; and earmarking £75m for a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging parents to change their children's diets and increase their activity levels.

  • Physical activity Projects include investing in town infrastructure to promote physical activity, and working with the entertainment industry to develop tools for parents to better manage the time children spend doing sedentary activities.

  • Incentives for better health The incentives will be aimed at individuals, employers and the National Health Service (NHS), and will include personal financial incentives.

  • Personalised advice and support Funding will be increased for the commissioning of more weight management services over the next three years; and the NHS Choices website will be developed.

Related topics Regulation & Policy

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