UK government “could become the first in the world to turn the tide on obesity”

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The UK government could become the first in the world to reverse rising levels of obesity by tackling stigma and tightening rules around the sale of food, a coalition of charities and doctors said.

In a 10-year strategy, the Obesity Health Alliance outlined its plan with a series of measures, including much stronger promotion of healthy food and phasing out the marketing of junk food.

He said the UK government must lead by example in tackling the “weight and stigma bias” faced by obese people by “reframing obesity as a matter of collective rather than personal responsibility”.

The report argues that people are exposed to an “obesogenic environment” from birth, “an environment in which high calorie and low nutrient foods are accessible, abundant, affordable and standardized, and where opportunities for physical activity are unavailable. not integrated into everyday life ”.

The alliance, which includes the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK and the Royal Colleges of Medicine, said successive governments had failed to tackle obesity since 1991, when ministers set the first target of reducing obesity rates in England to 7% (1980 levels) by 2005.

“Many strategies and policies have been announced in the meantime and yet, 30 years later, this and all subsequent targets have been missed,” the report said.

“Today, the majority of adults in England – 68% of men and 60% of women – are over a healthy weight, and more than a quarter are obese (27% of men and 29% of women), with the highest rates among the lowest socio-economic groups.

“Progress towards the government’s current ambition for childhood obesity in England, set in 2018 – to halve childhood obesity and significantly reduce the obesity gap between children in the most and least deprived areas of ‘by 2030 – seem out of reach. “

In 2014/15, the NHS spent £ 6.1bn on treating obesity-related health problems and this amount is expected to reach £ 9.7bn per year by 2050.

The alliance said it fully supports the government’s plans to introduce a 9 p.m. turn on television and a ban on paid online advertising for unhealthy food and drink, as well as new restrictions on the promotion of unhealthy food and drink. unhealthy foods and drinks at point of sale and online.

But he says it will take a lot more over the next five years, including:

– Mandatory nutrient labeling on the front of the package.

– Addition of the free sugar content on the labels on the back of the packages and the amount of sweeteners on the labels on the back of the packages.

– Calorie information on all alcoholic beverage labels.

Mandatory labeling of alcoholic beverages is part of the proposals (Ian West / PA)

– Introduction of regulations to impose calorie limits on individual servings of products high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) if calorie reduction targets are not met.

– Extend the 9pm watershed on advertisements for unhealthy food and drink in movies and on the radio; remove outdoor advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages and end marketing and promotions related to unhealthy food and beverages at family attractions, daycares and educational settings.

– Extend restrictions on multiple purchase promotions of unhealthy food and drink products.

– Ensure that universal breastfeeding support programs are accessible to all families, establish children’s centers or family centers in very disadvantaged areas and maintain local environments that promote exercise.

– Make the NHS ‘included in the size’ where possible, with ‘provision of suitable equipment for obese people’.

– Provide greater clarity on the legal responsibility of employers not to discriminate against employees on the basis of their weight.

– Introduce a “fiscal lever” on food and beverage manufacturers to encourage further reformulation of processed foods, for example through taxes on the reformulation of sugar and salt.

– Limit the use of cartoons on unhealthy food and drink packaging, as well as limit the use of celebrities and sports stars, and end the use of promotional offers on packaging, including gifts and competition prizes.

– Ensure that only healthier foods and drinks can be associated with sport, with new restrictions on any type of sports sponsorship of unhealthy products and brands.

– Prevent the deceptive marketing of foods and beverages intended for infants and young children.

– Ban on advertising of follow-on infant formula.

– Introduce policies that reduce the accessibility of unhealthy food and drink, especially for older children, including licensing retailers or reducing the hours of sale of products.

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, chair of the expert working group advising the alliance, said: ‘The majority of people in the UK are classified as overweight or obese and this is likely to continue without continued action. and overall government.

“We have looked at the evidence for the multiple factors that influence healthy weights, and if the government commits to bold new policies, we can turn the tide, reduce obesity and dramatically improve the health of our country.”

John Maingay, Director of Policy and Influence at the British Heart Foundation, said: “After years of focusing on education and awareness measures, the UK government has started to move in the right direction with a strategy. against obesity which aims to make the healthy option the easy option choice.

“Now we need to build on that with forward-thinking policies, such as imposing a tax on businesses to encourage them to produce healthier food. “

Professor Linda Bauld, academic leader of the project, said: “It is possible to reverse the trend against obesity.

“In the three decades that obesity has continued to rise, smoking rates in the UK have been halved – thanks to a series of comprehensive government strategies.”

Kate Halliwell, scientific director of the Food and Drink Federation, said she was concerned about some of the report’s recommendations, which were lacking in evidence.

“As we have stated since its mention in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy Report, we do not agree that a food tax on the industry will solve the obesity crisis. As the Chancellor rightly pointed out over the weekend, an additional tax would ultimately impact families who are already struggling to make ends meet, by making food and drink more expensive.

“After a very difficult year for the food industry, including the challenges it currently faces with shortages, companies in our industry are already operating with very tight margins, and any other costs should simply be passed on to the consumer. in the form of higher food prices.

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