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 1045.

    I look at Labour Party, and except Blair/Brown, I see the same politicians that ruled this country for 13 years.
    The same bunch.
    Yet, look at them talking about how to tackle problems that they failed to solve or chose to ignore for 13 years.
    What a cheek ?!?!??

    Before its current politicians retire and fade away in history, BNP has better chance to get a vote from than Labour The Shameless.

  • Comment number 1044.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1043.

    GOOD GRIEF, a Labour Policy on something and one that shows some brain power, what is the world coming to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1042.

    What utter nonsense from a bunch of rather unintelligent politicians. It's the volume of food and alcohol coupled with the lack of exercise that are the biggest causes of obesity. What is being suggested by Labour does not address these issues and is therefore a complete and utter waste of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1041.

    4 Minutes ago
    1014. CantSilenceMe..
    Apart from your disagreeable politics you actually might have a chance of being a comedian ! (alternative)
    I'm now rating +ve on Comedic value
    A new double act with Rebecca Riot

  • rate this

    Comment number 1040.

    I think that the plan to control foods that exceed certain levels of fat, sugar, salt etc. would be far too difficult to control. Why not have a a special logo that food manufacturers could only put on their food if it passed analytical tests and then people can make their own choice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1039.

    So Labour wants to ban sugary cereals.

    I know they think the majority of the population are stupid (they are their voting base after all) but what is going to stop someone buying a non-sugary cereal and then sprinkling sugar all over it?

    I suppose that their next step will be to ban sugar altogether.

    If only politicians could think things through they may be dangerous.

  • Comment number 1038.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1037.

    I just love the Labour attitude that they believe they can get Brownie Points for every proposed political idea even if it is of menial quality.

    So many years in power when they could have done something about it:

    Afghanistan War
    Iraq War
    Cheap selling of Gold reserves.
    Fuel/other TAXES.
    Working Tax Credits raised to the tune of 60% of benefits bill.

    No boom and bust - just BUST.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1036.


    Yes but people bring those upon themselves too. Obesity isn't black and white such as it just being food related. Some medication balloons weight, so should we take people off lifesaving medication too and refuse them treatment because they are obese because of it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1035.

    I am obese and I love pies, cake and crisps.

    The government and others won't change me. They can take their views and shove them up there cake hole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1034.

    Does Labour ever tire of its own hypocrisy ?

    They had 13 years to tackle obesity and what did they do ? Nothing.

    Or does Labour think people only became fat since the 2010 election
    Yeah the only thing thats been bad for my health & BP has been 13 yrs of 'Hard Labour'

  • rate this

    Comment number 1033.

    Another nanny state comment. Whatever is put in food everybody can choose to put in more salt or sugar to their taste and this action could well be counter productive. Isn't it time the money which is spent on these talks was instead spent on informing people of the harm they do themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1032.

    @kitty. Yes, those are accidents. Obesity is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1031.

    I am responsible with my eating & with my drinking. Been the same weight (give or take 3kg) since I was 18 y/o. why is this? Well, because I was educated by my parents in personal responsibility. Why should I now have to pay extra for things because a minority of people are not? Cook you meals from scratch instead of eating processed rubbish, it’s not hard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1030.

    May I suggest to you that you use the term 'nanny state' in its derogatory affiliation. Therefore I assume that you wish to pick and choose the pieces of legislation that most suits your particular polictical leaning. Not on the basis of it's merit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1029.

    1003.squeezy - "....They had 10 years to sort this out and did nothing!"

    You could say the same about the Tories & their minimum alcohol pricing.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1028.

    Where is the freedom of choice and control over ones life

  • rate this

    Comment number 1027.

    It is not difficult to solve. Educate people on how to actually cook food from scratch rather than be the lazy fast food junkie nation we have become. Most parents don't cook or even know how to cook. Stop raising your kids on a diet of burgers and nuggets and surprise surprise the fat and sugar levels go down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1026.

    Labour Nanny state again. I expect they will get into power and throw millions at stupid ideas like this....oh hang on, they did that last time and nearly bankrupted us!


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