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 165.

    Labour should make a law banning excess & unnecessary laws and regulations. Why do they always think a new nanny law is required for everything? next they'll make a law making it a legal requirement to have 3 meals of a prescribed energy content at determined times of the day to stop anorexia or other eating disorders!!! how about encouraging/educating people to work it out for themselves?

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    The TV media could help massively if it stopped glamourising food so much. Get rid of all the TV chefs, stop making eating something to aspire to and make food simply a necessity rather than a habit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I love to cook and try to eat a healthy diet. My choice.I do not exercise that much!My choice.I eat more than I should.My choice.I am overweight so that is my choice!!Not ideal and nothing to brag about but food consumption v lack of exercise is my choice.No one is shoveling the food in for me or stopping me exercising. Pretty dress for a wedding next year is my inspirational choice!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Same old one solution fix all Labour, MORE Legislation/Regulation.

    The answer to Obesity lies not in regulation but in Education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    The rise in obesity has a direct correlation with the rise of American style junk food outlets; McDonald's, Burger King, Starbuck's, Costa etc., and, just as bad Chinese, Indian and other ethnic food outlets. All these places should be required to prominently display warning signs and should be banned from advertising, just as has been done with that other plague, Tobacco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    want to tackle obesity
    don't allow labour into power again then we can shame people into losing weight
    all this PC nonsense huh!!
    and while were at it we should shame single unmarried parents and return to the stigma attached to being one.
    then and only then may we see some changes,
    the labour party is bad for our health

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Nanny state Liebour, ridiculous priorities.
    I can go into a supermarket and buy enough vodka to kill myself, but I cannot buy 50 aspirin! Surely with the amount of hardship alcohol puts on the nation, these sorts of issues head up telling me I cannot have a bowl of flipping Frosties! Same old Liebour wanting to test reaction, no idea at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    There will always be 'added value' to contend with.

    Standard size or large. Bigger, costs no more to produce. They charge much more.

    Huge apples, which you may think is good but you only get two per kilo which is bad. You buy apples in fours or fives.

    You are encouraged by the food industry to be porkers.

    The government (commerce to you and me) do not want controls on anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    When a government (of any colour) can control spending, run an efficient education system, defend us successfully and maintain a juidicial system that people trust and respect - then and only then can they tell us what to eat!!! That's never going to happen then. Also, isn't it hypocritical when the majority of MPs are either over-weight or obese!

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Taking salt, sugar, fat, colourings and flavourings out of processed food will revert it back into the inedible pap it actually is....... so expect a lot of resistance to this Labour proposal from the food industry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    The globalised food industry owns/sponsors/'helps'/supports politicians (all creeds and colours), unions and charities as well as the good old National Obesity Forum and MEND check it out for yourselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Or you could say it’s about really giving people control and choice. I can make a sauce, soup or a cake from scratch when I have the time (not all can) but if I want, for example, to use baked beans in a meal then baking the beans is less of an option. If that ingredient is stuffed with sugar and salt by someone else then my choice in cooking a healthy meal is compromised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Sugar and salt aren't bad for you. Ask any athlete how much sugar and salt they consume and you will be shocked. Living a sedentary lifestyle whilst consuming these foods is bad for you. Getting people (especially the young) exercising should be the real target. Now that's going to be difficult as the previous government sold our school playing fields and recreational land to property developers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    I'm all for it. Anything that helps obese people to make the right choices should be welcomed. But what about the TV's obession with programmes such as the Great British Bake Off etc?
    No reduced fat cooking to be seen! And dont even start me off on Saturday Kitchen and its liberal use of butter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Dear Government,

    As a useless prole please could you take over responsibility of my entire life as I am unable and unwilling to do so myself.


    A UK Citizen

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Arrogant, nannying nonsense.

    If things are reduced in sugar in cereals for example we will do as we always have, sprinkle sugar over the bowl-full directly! Same with salt.

    The real difference as shown in older reports is not food intake but child activity. Largely down to car use, pick up drop off. Try banning cars 3 miles from schools! :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    It should be borne in mind that food can be addictive & it's input to the system at least as difficult to control as tobacco or alcohol, hence the various eating disorders not just over eating. We legislate to prevent people from making themselves ill in all kinds of ways, thus giving people the liberty to live healthy lives even if it means preventing profit hungry business taking advantage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    And as well as education, we need information. People are talking about choice, but you can only make a choice if you have the info. We need to know what is in ALL our food, and especially components like trans fats. If the govt wants to legislate, don't set limits, make it compulsory to have detailed nutritional labels ALL presented in the same way, so Joe public can make informed choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Carbohydrate intake, not fat, makes you fat.

    Absolute and utter drivel. Excess calorific intake, in whatever form, makes you fat. It's beliefs such as this that show why some people in this country probably do need to be told how to eat properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    119.Mr Common Sense - "..everyone PRETENDS to care about each other, but nobody actually does."
    Well said! All this pious sanctimony makes me feel ill.

    How utterly grandiose so many people are that they think they have some sort of blueprint as to how everyone should be.
    Get off your high horses you meddlesome busybodies.


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