The Public Health White Paper has thrown down the gauntlet to the industry to put its own house in order - or it will intervene with legislation.
The report warns regulatory action will follow in three years’ time if action is not taken to control the advertising of food and soft drinks to children.
Other action to crack down on obesity and poor diets will follow if the government cannot see tangible improvements.
But there’s less tough talk in the White Paper than the industry expected.
“The government seems to recognise that because of the European single market, it will need to rely upon voluntary action rather than legal compulsion,” said Owen Warnock, partner at Eversheds law firm. The Department of Health has admitted that the issue of personal responsibility is key to improving the nation’s health. A broad theme of the document is that “it is not a matter for the Government to dictate to [people] what they can and cannot consume”. But “there is a special case for protecting children”.
And the DoH promises collaboration with the food and farming industries to thrash out the specifics for putting the nation’s health in order. These will be detailed in its forthcoming Food and Health Action Plan, due to be published early next year,
A DoH spokesman said that the Plan would confirm the main themes on nutrition covered in the White Paper and would integrate health with findings on sustainable farming, and the environment.
So while the industry is waiting for the detail, many questions remain unanswered.
Before labelling schemes and guidelines on the marketing of certain foods can be implemented, there must be criteria on which to judge them.
And the DoH has to wait for the Food Standards Agency to complete its nutrient profiling, expected in March next year, before it takes this next step.
On the issue of advertising to children, health officials will be closely monitoring their food preferences between now and 2007 and if they fail to change regulation could soon follow.
Jeremy Preston, director of The Advertising Association’s Food Advertising Unit, said: “The White Paper wants to demonise foods even though research shows that 70% of children are not taking enough exercise.”
The DoH hopes to set up a new food and drink advertising forum. The government also plans national and regional public information campaigns on health issues.
The White Paper says. “In the longer term we expect to see a significant part of the strategy delivered through campaigns that are jointly funded by government and industry.”
nIndustry expected to jointly fund government campaigns against obesity, smoking and binge drinking
nNew nutritional criteria set by mid-2005
nNew labelling system that signposts how healthy products are by early 2006
nVoluntary restrictions on advertising ‘unhealthy’ food to children by 2007 or government will take action
nCrackdown on retailers selling tobacco to underage customers
nExpansion of five-a-day programme
nReduce smuggled share of cigarettes from 18% to no more than 13% by 2007-2008
nRetailers encouraged to stock nicotine replacement products
n Picture warnings on cigarette packets favoured
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The Health White Paper admits that the issue of personal responsibility is key. But regulation and bills are looming by Amy Balchin
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