The government must do everything in its power to combat obesity (Supermarkets must stop discounting unhealthy foods to tackle childhood obesity, say MPs, 27 March). Obesity is a public health disaster inextricably enmeshed with cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnoea, gout, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, gallstones, cancers, osteoarthritis, breathing problems, dental decay and gum disease. The obesity statistics are staggering. The Lancet reported this year that around 700,000 new cancers caused by overweight are predicted by 2035 and that the number of those afflicted with diabetes in the UK alone has topped 4 million. The costs to the NHS are projected to reach £9.7bn by 2050.
Obesity is a vivid example of the link between general and oral health. Sugar is the main culprit in the unabated increase in obesity and dental decay. A holistic, comprehensive and sustainable approach is needed that transcends medicine and dentistry, challenging the avoidable consequences of modern lifestyles.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
• People in this country are consuming too many calories, many of them from sugar, which is contributing to unacceptably high levels of obesity. The government has published sugar reduction guidelines for certain types of food to bring overall sugar levels down, while still allowing people to enjoy their favourite foods. This is an important step and must form part of a broader range of initiatives to help individuals and families towards better diets and healthier lifestyles. To play their part, responsible food and drink manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, cafes and takeaways will adapt recipes and take action to encourage consumers towards low- and no-sugar options. In some foods, portion-size reductions will be necessary. Producers will keep consumer tastes and preferences at the heart of this work.
Health charities and professional bodies will support this ambitious agenda by providing clear advice, backed by robust science, and helping to combat often confused messaging around nutrition and health. As well as pushing for full and continuing industry engagement, these groups can also help to create an environment where recognition is given to companies’ efforts, challenges and achievements. This will encourage the sustained industry engagement that is needed.
Food and Drink Federation
National Obesity Forum
• The Commons health select committee has released a report admonishing the government’s plans to fight obesity, claiming that proposed measures do not go far enough to tackle the crisis. The committee argues that ministers had ignored recommendations from health bodies to regulate price promotions of unhealthy food and drinks aimed at children. Research from Oliver Wyman shows that 81% of UK shoppers have noticed that sugary products are more often on promotion in their supermarket than healthy options – and 60% of consumers say it is their supermarket’s responsibility to help them be healthier.
Rather than waiting for the regulatory hammer to fall, supermarkets in the UK should redefine themselves as health and wellbeing brands, by simplifying choices and building customer loyalty through healthy living programmes. By showing customers how their activity and shopping habits feed into their health outcomes and helping them make informed decisions and trade-offs, supermarkets can influence habits in a way that is positive for their business while also delivering health benefits.
Oliver Wyman Consulting
• New NHS statistics show that one in four adults are inactive and levels of obesity have more than tripled since the 1990s (One in four adults take less than 30 minutes of exercise every week, 31 March). An easy solution to our sedentary lifestyle is getting more people walking their short, everyday journeys and yet the report shows that one in four adults aren’t even walking for half an hour a week. Getting off the bus a stop earlier, going for a lunchtime walk or choosing to park further away and walk the rest of the way are all easy ways to get moving more and can make a big difference to our health and happiness.
The report also shows that more than a third of children are overweight by the time they leave primary school. Creating safe walking routes and encouraging more children to walk to school will help the whole family get more active and ensure children develop healthy habits for life. This is vital if we’re going to protect the future of our health service. It’s Living Streets’ National Walking Month in May and we’re encouraging people to fit 20 minutes of walking into their day. We know from people who took part last year that it’s an achievable way to get active and stay healthy.
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