Last week, the British government unveiled its long-awaited childhood obesity strategy (sidenote: we dislike obesity-focused rhetoric, and much prefer approaches centered on health, regardless of weight).
Health advocates are underwhelmed, to put it mildly.
This Observer editorial — published in sister newspaper The Guardian — explains further, and touches on food industry influence as one problem:
- “[The government’s childhood obesity strategy is]a disgrace, so thin on action it barely deserves to be labelled a strategy.”
- “A year ago, Public Health England reviewed the evidence about what works in reducing obesity. It called for far-reaching measures: to reduce junk-food advertising directed at children, to limit the number of supermarket promotions on unhealthy foods, and to force manufacturers to gradually reduce the sugar content of high-sugar foods. None features in the government’s strategy: it simply sets out a voluntary approach to asking manufacturers to reduce sugar levels over time. This is the same approach adopted by former health secretary Andrew Lansley in his 2011 “responsibility deal”, which left it up to the food and drinks industry to voluntarily change its approach. Yet studies have shown it failed to work.
- “The food industry is notorious for using friendly cartoon characters and online games to market directly at children, pushing them to pressure parents into buying fat- and sugar-laden foods. It is known for misleadingly passing off products, such as breakfast drinks that contain more sugar than a can of cola, as healthy. There are parallels with the 1950s tobacco industry, which offered guarantees its products were safe that companies knew they could not make stand up.”
- “Prior to 2010, the UK was a world leader in nutrition policy. The previous Labour government devolved responsibility to the independent Food Standards Agency, insulating nutrition policy from heavy industry lobbying. The FSA led the way on the reformulation of food products, brokering industry-wide deals to get the industry to reduce salt contents.”
- “In 2010, the coalition government rubbished this approach. In response to industry lobbying, nutrition policy was restored to the Department of Health, with disastrous effect. Policy again became vulnerable to the powerful food and drinks lobby that, like the once-mighty tobacco industry formerly did, spends vast sums on influencing ministers and MPs.”