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 225.

    Low-fat high-wholegrain dieting down-regulates fat-burning metabolism and promotes obesity. Lower carb diets high in sat-fat, omega 3 and monounsaturates can fix this. Then some fat can be swapped for safe starch from tubers/white rice.

    Sugar is as toxic and addictive as cigarettes and should be taxed as such.

    Low-salt foods are not ideal for healthy, active people who build up a sweat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    It's a known fact that fatties cost the NHS more.

    Why should my taxes be used to help self-indulgent greedy guzzlers, who are too stupid to follow sensible eating advice ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    2 Minutes ago
    . You only get fat if you are greedy & lazy.

    Thats a fact is it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    Tighter regulations on the food companies would be good news because it will inevitably lead to a lower average daily calorie intake. Unless the UK seriously tackles our obesity problems soon, the resulting surge of health problems could lead to the end of the NHS. Clearly leaving the sole responsibility to the parents is not working, so the government needs to take active measures like these.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Yours In Sisterhood @ 193 says: How come junk food tastes nicer than the healthy stuff

    That's true!

    They can make xxxx taste like butter

    Don't ever use taste as a guide to good food unless you're a real expert

    Those clever boffins in white lab coats spend millions tricking your taste buds

    And well done BrendanMiller @ 188 !

    GOODS INWARDS is probably the best guide to what comes out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    There's an addiction aspect to this which doesn't get mentioned much. Sugary fatty comfort type foods raise dopamine levels temporarily and relieve the gloom. This complicates matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    I sometimes wonder whether the growth hormones that are fed to animals to fatten them up have any impact, when the meat is eaten, on stimulating the human body to grow fatter. I am not a scientist - perhaps somebody knows the answer..

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    One of the complaints I hear from people, mostly from those abroad, is that items like chocolates, deserts, cakes e.t.c. are too sweet. If anyone has tried a chocolate from say parts of eastern Europe or a sweet from Asia I think they will appreciate this criticism. It is refreshing to hear that Labour considering this. Hopefully a plan can be drawn up soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Queen Victoria's sons were all portly by their mid thirties. A life time of pampering

    If you keep stuffing and drinking, going on holiday, and without any proper exercise of course you will get fat.

    Sadly may older folk seem to think that eating and drinking is what they want and deserve after a lifetime of hard work. There are less philistine ways to fill your final years if you look about

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Here is an idea Labour, instead of campaigning against the Government when they wanted to put VAT on unhealthy foods such as cooked pasties and sausage rolls why not work with them.

    Bunch of hypocrites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Are we living in an age when we don't know what is going into our food and unable to understand existing labelling? Personally I would have thought a review on what is VAT rated and what isn't is more important. Could someone tell me why orange juice in cartons is VAT rated but biscuits aren't? Mainly it is just laziness on the part of the shopper under the guise of 'I'm a very busy person".

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Let's face it, the large supermarkets tell us what to eat. If anyone believes their hype that they only stock what we want them to are deluding themselves. The growth in obesity correlates with the rise of the large supermarkets.

    Want to be healthy? A balanced diet cooked at home, using seasonal fresh produce, preferably organic, from a reliable source. Not this homogenised supermarket rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Did we elect our politicians to regulate what we eat and monitor how fat or thin we are?

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    197.willow904 - 'doesn't even mention the problem of sugar'

    I noticed that too. Yet sugar is closely linked to T2 and metabolic syndrome and possibly more of issue than fat (though trans is a seperate issue). Odd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    High Fructose Corn Syrup. Ban that and we'll be halfway there with no effort whatsoever. (See BBC : 'The Men That Made Us Fat').

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    Here's a wacky about encouraging the public at large to take responsibility for their own decisions and choices? Make the facts freely available (without changing guidelines every 5 minutes) and if people choose not to read them or adhere to them, let them get on with it. All it takes is a little organisation to make meals from scratch, have a balanced diet and exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    195. PE NOI Another myth. The longest lived people, such as the Okinawans, are omnivorous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    A bit late for labour to be concerned here, why are Labour not being challenged on their policy while in govt that allowed supermarkets to dictate the labelling against the advice of the food health professionals, what exactly did Labour do in govt except for letting the econonmy spiral out of control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Will there be no limit to the nanny state. People should be allowed to make choices, even bad ones. Will they suggest banning alcohol next?
    Voluntary agreements should be the only way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Sorry, cheap food does not have to be unhealthy! You can cook for low expense and eat healthy! Lazy equals fat if you are not selective !


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