Scales obesity

The official government evaluation of the Responsibility Deal (RD) has found it will not be effective in tackling obesity, and should be replaced by measures including regulations on sugar and marketing, and additional taxation.

The latest report by the DH-funded Policy Innovation Research Unit study, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, offers a scathing criticism of the impact of food pledges, and follows a recent similarly damning report on the RD’s alcohol pledges.

The evaluation assessed the effectiveness of voluntary pledges from retailers and suppliers to take action on nutrition labelling, salt reduction, calorie reduction, fruit and vegetable consumption, and the reduction of saturated fats.

It claimed up to two-thirds of interventions reported by companies were already being carried out regardless of the RD, and criticised the quality of reporting on pledge progress.

“Though reformulation was most commonly listed in the delivery plans, the act of signing up to the RD motivated few organisations to implement such interventions,” said the report

“Though RD partners claim that considerable sugar reduction has occurred under their calorie reduction pledge, the current progress reports do not substantiate these claims,” it added.

“The most effective strategies to improve diet, such as food pricing strategies, restrictions on marketing, and reducing sugar intake, are not reflected in the RD food pledges,” the report found.

“Moreover, it was difficult to establish the quality and extent of implementation of RD pledge interventions due to the paucity and heterogeneity of organisations’ progress reports.”

The researchers also said the RD would not work without “clear penalties” for failure to demonstrate progress.

The FDF defended the achievements under the deal, although said it agreed that the reporting under the RD had not been fit for purpose.

“The Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal is the most ambitious and inclusive framework for voluntary action on public health the UK has ever seen,” said Barbara Gallani, director of regulation, science and health at the FDF.

“Britain’s food and drink producers have stepped up and collaborated with others to develop and deliver a stretching, targeted programme of work. As this analysis shows, up to around two thirds of food interventions captured were motivated by the RD, with the remainder representing voluntary industry action which was already committed to and continued under this framework.

“We agree with authors that existing reporting mechanisms don’t effectively capture what has been achieved, which in turn invites criticism rather than due credit for companies investing for health. FDF members are proud of the commitment they’ve shown to improving the health of their customers, employees and the people in their communities.”

The BRC has said it will not agree to any further voluntary deals unless the government brings in a new framework with better monitoring and clearer health targets.

“We would encourage the new Government to take a balanced, evidence-based approach to future regulation in the area of public health, whether mandatory or voluntary, and to fully engage with industry as part of this process,” said a spokesman.

“Any future voluntary initiatives supported by Government should be part of a wider strategy and following clear guiding principles such as the Framework for Voluntary Regulation proposed by the BRC.”