Consider tougher regulation in obesity fight - Labour


Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham: "I think the time has come for new thinking"

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Labour has urged the government to consider introducing legal limits on sugar, salt and fat content in food.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said current voluntary agreements with the food industry were not working and the obesity problem was worsening,

He said Labour will soon begin a consultation on how to tackle obesity.

The Department of Health in England said its Responsibility Deal with food companies shows the voluntary approach can be successful.

At its core this is an argument about how best to reduce levels of fat, sugar and salt in our food - through regulation, or collaboration.

The coalition says working with industry through the Responsibility Deal has improved food content and labelling.

But Mr Burnham said the "time has come for new thinking" and asked whether a legal limit on the amount of fat, sugar and salt, especially for foods aimed at children, should be established.

'Helpful to parents'

Labour's consultation paper Children, Food and Obesity says parents are primarily responsible for ensuring their children eat healthily, but it argues that government also has a crucial role.

Start Quote

If we don't meet our targets and continue to make the progress that we have to make, then we would consider legislation”

End Quote Jeremy Hunt MP Health Secretary

Mr Burnham told the BBC: "This is a problem we can't carry on ignoring. It is storing up great problems for the NHS in the future.

"I think parents need more help to make healthier choices for their children, I include myself here.

"A lot of the time people don't realise just how high in fat, salt and sugar some of these products are, even when you're trying to make healthier choices.

"The industry needs to show more responsibility and come forward with products that are going to be helpful to parents in making the right choices," he concluded.

Recent NHS data has indicated that a third of children in England are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, putting them at greater risk than ever before of developing serious problems such as diabetes and cancer.

The party says measures could include a 30% cap on sugar content in cereals aimed at children - significantly lower than in several well-known brands.

Mr Burnham denied Labour were promoting a "nanny state", insisting parents must "decide for themselves" on food choices for their children.

"I'm not talking about banning anything... my argument is, shouldn't we just bring down those fat, salt sugar levels to make them more healthier than they are?" he added.

Which foods should be regulated?

Nutritionist Amanda Ursell highlighted five foods that she says could benefit from regulation:

  • Breakfast cereals: to reduce high sugar content
  • Fruit juice drinks: these are drinks which are not pure fruit juice and can have added sugar - but are confusing to spot among pure fruit juice products
  • Ready meals: regulation would stop some brands adding too much salt
  • Crisps: caps could reduce salt levels
  • Biscuits, cookies and cakes: manufacturers might be encouraged to rethink levels of fat

The consultation will also consider tighter restrictions on marketing and improving access to healthy food.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government was "making very good progress" in tackling childhood obesity, telling the BBC the Responsibility Deal has led to "significant reductions" in the salt, fat and sugar content of supermarket foods.

He added: "The reality is that supermarkets and the food manufacturers need to understand that we do reserve the right to legislate.

"This is not a problem we can just wish away. If we don't meet our targets and continue to make the progress that we have to make, then we would consider legislation.

"We have been able to deliver much faster results by going for voluntary agreements... but if we don't get that agreement, let's be absolutely clear, we will look at legislation. We are utterly determined to grip the problem," he insisted.

'Significant progress'

A spokesperson for the Department of Health in England added: "Our successes so far clearly demonstrate that the voluntary approach can work and we now have over 400 partners in the responsibility deal.

"We are working to reduce the amount of salt in food further, cut saturated fat consumption and we are exploring how to promote healthier food choices more widely. We also want more businesses making pledges so we get bigger results ."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt: ''This is a very serious problem''

The Food and Drink Federation also said collaboration between business and government had been a success.

"Through voluntary commitments, manufacturers have made significant progress in reducing salt, saturated fat and calories in their products. Salt levels have reduced 9% since 2006 and some manufacturers have introduced calorie caps in particular for snacks and soft drinks."

However, former regional director of public health, Professor Gabriel Scally, said the voluntary "collaboration" between food companies and the government was not working.

Speaking to the BBC he said: "I don't think anyone in this country actually thinks that the food industry are the right people to decide what we should be eating."

Professor Nick Finer, who co-authored a recent report on obesity by the Royal College of Physicians, said legislative measures had already worked in other European countries.

"In French schools food and drink is controlled and all marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt is banned unless they are taxed and marketed with a health warning.

"Studies have shown that following these measures, the number of overweight children in France has dropped from 18.1% in 2000 to 15.5% in 2007."

Nutritionist Amanda Ursell said introducing legal limits on food could be "incredibly useful" if it meant "manufacturers are encouraged to reformulate their products" and market in "a responsible way".

She said: "Children's food up to the age of one is closely regulated - so you know they won't have too much sugar, salt or fat. But at the age of one those regulations disappear.

"It's a slow process and the food industry has done quite well over the years, but this would be an extra incentive to go one stage further."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1505.

    Banning sugary foods isn't a solution. I have 2 kids who both like sugary foods and everyday they have chocolate cereals for breakfast. They also eat fruit and veg and a balanced diet. According to doctors, my kids are underweight, but they eat loads. They're thin thanks to an active lifestyle. If healthy food was affordable we wouldn't have to buy bad stuff on special to afford to eat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1504.

    @1491: if I invest x and end up with y st y>x, then I have crated wealth for myself. If I am taxed on that profit, I have created wealth for the government. If I spend the remainder, I am creating wealth in other sectors through sales.

    And who said I am investing in banks or unaware of how fractional banking works? Loads of growth sectors including the likes of renewables and agile business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1503.

    The greater the distance between Labour and their unworkable, unwanted or unaffordable ideas and any aspect of our lives, the better off we'll all be. I suspect when we unravel the fake concern and good intentions spin, the real reason will be to create an unhealthy foods tax, no doubt to be wasted on non-jobs and bribing their core vote in the next election. We're all responsible for our own diet

  • rate this

    Comment number 1502.

    REFINED carbs and sugar are completly uneccesary and dangerous in the diet. Carbs are actually essential, but we can get all the carbs we need from veg, fruit, pulses and nuts. We sure as heck don't need bread, cereal, pastry etc, and it shouldn't be the base of the food piramid. But the brain actually does require SOME natural unprocessed carbs

  • rate this

    Comment number 1501.

    2 Minutes ago
    Perhaps they should ask Eric Pickles for advice
    He's away filming "The Meaning of Life II"
    "Pass me another wafer-thin mint"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1500.

    @ 1492 Boro Jonesy

    "Tax Salt!"

    Salt was one the first commodities ever to be taxed due to its high value, which was on a par with gold. Hence the etymology of 'salary'.

    You're regressive to the tune of about half of millenium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1499.

    1492.Boro Jonesy

    try looking in the mirror.

    No socialist views from me Boro. I just believe that people less fortunate than myself deserve help if they need it. I think it's called being a human being. You might try it one day, it rewards the soul which I have always found to be better than rewarding the wallet.

    Hope you get better soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1498.

    British people are fat, lazy and unhealthy. Since I've moved to Italy I am shocked at the junk supermarkets in the UK force into your line of sight. Sweets, cakes, crisps, chocolate and fizzy juice take up a huge percentage of shelve space and the British lap it up when they're not consuming takeaways and booze. They can't be trusted to take care of themselves so this is absolutely required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1497.

    Can't we just legislate that McDonalds and Burger King are only allowed doors half a meter wide so fat people can't get in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1496.

    Perhaps they should ask Eric Pickles for advice

  • Comment number 1495.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1494.

    1487. Martin

    1484 Billythefirst.... what I don't understand is how is he still there
    Frankly Martin, I find myself at something of a loss to explain - I mean OK there was no hard evidence that Papa Hunt had chooms at NI, nor should we speculate that others not called Jeremy Hunt signed E mails JH, and he may not have been hiding behind that tree, he might have been admiring it, but then G4S?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1493.

    Note to Ed Milliband.

    You are an idiot.

    The country is suffering under the weight of drastic Tory cuts that are reducing the income and stability of a whole generation. We have no growth, no plans other than pillory the poorest and tyrants in charge intent on privatising everything we own.

    Concentrate on this and leave out this rubbish. You need to pull your damn socks up and get real.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1492.

    @1486: I've got flu, didn't fancy partying tonight. Thought I'd engage in some debate with some minnows instead. These forums are a great tool for gauging how stupid most people really are.

    Most debates are the same though, people with ridiculous socialist ideas trying to make idealistic arguments with no possible way of ever backing them up practically or financially.

    Tax Salt!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1491.

    @1481: "Yes people DO prosper from my wealth creation"

    Moving money around does NOT create wealth. Deluded parasites such as yourself believe that money magically conjures up. Trading shares is a zero sum game.

    The banks are still bankrupt, despite having money thrown at them. Clearly their magical wealth creation isn't working any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1490.

    continued... our word allowance and posting after 600 seconds makes it hard to put points across properly.
    OnlyOneDaveSmith it sounds like I am arguing with you. I am not, I am trying to enter a discussion about 'if food content were to have greater regulation, what the best things to regulate would be' :)
    Refined sugar and carbs I think, in staple foodstuff anyhow.....

  • Comment number 1489.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1488.

    Don't dumb us all down, in fact don't dumb anyone down just stop stockpiling these additives, suger ect shareholders beware of making a quick buck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1487.

    1484 Billythefirst.... what I don't understand is how is he still there

  • rate this

    Comment number 1486.

    1481.Boro Jonesy

    ha ha.. but yet with all that your still here on a Saturday night...

    as I said earlier...

    W.U.M. & septic tank.


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