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Controlling Obesity: Will prohibiting the food industry work?

Posted in Personal Health 09 Jan, 2013

The news that obesity in the UK is rising is as probable as hearing the weatherman reporting rain for the duration of this month. Hence not only has obesity tripled in the last 30 years in Britain, but in a new study health experts Organisation for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have warned that UK children are among the fattest in Europe. Thus the affect of obesity on the country's next generation proves that action must be done to prevent what has already been termed an epidemic from escalating further. Likewise the shadow health secretary’s new proposal that further action is needed to regulate the food industry gives an indication to how large the obesity health ‘crisis’ has become.

Prohibition

Such concerning figures has according to The Guardian led Jeremy Hunt to propose a prohibition of the food industry in order to curb the high levels of salt and sugar found in foods held by the supermarkets and food manufacturing giants. This is despite the introduction of the ‘Reasonability Deal’ a truce previously made between the government and the food industry to ensure limits on fat, sugar and salt levels are effectively put in place. But whether Hunt’s threat of further legislation to regulate the food industry further will help to restrict a person’s diet and reduce their chance of obesity will work, I have my doubts.

False advertising

Despite the ‘Responsibility Deal’ which was created to limit the food industry’s sale of food containing high levels of fat and salt, it is widely known that many supermarkets sell a range of foods, which despite being marketed as healthy, actually contain high fat and sugar content. According to Labour, a report by consumer group Which? found that in contrast to their healthy claims, more than half of breakfast cereals contained excessive and high levels of sugar, with Kellogg’s Frosties in the lead containing “37g per 100g of cereal.” Such figures are a worry, and do little to question why UK obesity levels are high amongst both adults and children.

The traffic light system

It should not be forgotten that over the last few years many supermarkets have adopted and consequently used the traffic lights system or front GDA labelling method, as a way to show the fat, sugar and salt content on food labels, to let consumers know what is in their food, and help them to choose the healthier option. Although it could be considered somewhat a success, the continuous rise of obesity figures shows that the system is far from perfect. The use of promotional supermarket deals aimed at the cheaper and often more fatty foods does little to steer consumers towards healthier food options.

Placing the blame

But is it fair to place all the blame solely on the supermarkets and manufacturers? Yes it is essential that something needs to be done to help curb the growing rise of obesity levels, and it is true that the food industry needs to take responsibility and better care in the way that foods are promoted to ensure that certain foods are not marketed as healthy when they are far from that. The continual promotion of unhealthy food in supermarkets is also a concern, and it is not surprising that in an economy that is struggling, many consumers through financial reasons may opt for such produce.

A nanny state

But is Jeremy Hunts’ proposal on increasing further legalisation on food a step too far? Should we be making our own decisions and taking reasonability for our actions, effectively watching our weight and what we eat? Likewise should parents take more reasonability in monitoring their children’s eating habits? Although I do agree that some foods are way too high in sugar and salt, I’m not sure if a nanny state which if Hunt has his way would include cutting out salt and sugar from most popular foods is the answer.

Surely re-educating people through talks and discussions in the workplace, schools or centres could provide knowledge, on food and nutrition, healthy eating or in extreme cases the inclusion of treatment with healthy eating to help maintain weight. This will allow us to continue to eat some of our favourite foods, but more importantly know our limits and eat in moderation.

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