Traffic-light labelling, restricted advertising and tighter food industry regulation will not solve the obesity crisis, according to research conducted among overweight consumers.
The study comes as the food industry awaits the long-delayed publication of the government’s Public Health White Paper, which is expected to introduce restrictive measures.
But the research shows obese people consider such measures least effective. They put the blame for their obesity squarely on their own shoulders.
“It’s personal choice. No-one can do anything about it except ourselves,” said one interviewee.
The research, conducted by Stimulating World and Market Tools for the Advertising Association’s Food Advertising Unit (FAU), found an overwhelming 93% of overweight and obese people believed responsibility was with individuals. More than a quarter thought the government had a responsibility and 24% mentioned the food industry, only 4% saying it had primary responsibility. Encouragement was seen as the most effective approach to solving obesity. Among the 600 people surveyed, 80% said self-discipline was key to success. Practical support, such as free exercise, price reductions on healthy food and counselling, was also regarded as helpful. But higher tax on high fat/sugar products, banning promotions and restricting advertising of such products and a government ad campaign to promote healthy eating and exercise were seen as having minimal impact.
“These people are not short of advice and are fed up with people telling them what to do,” said Dominic Scott-Malden of Stimulating World. “They don’t want to be ostracised, they want encouragement.”
The researchers also surveyed people with a Body Mass Index classified as normal. While the obese and overweight people highlighted solutions that would help them directly, those of normal weight believed more strongly in restrictive measures.
“Normal weight people picked measures that the obese did not believe would help them. The message is clear - punitive measures will not work,” said Stuart Wood of Market Tools.
The Advertising Association has presented the research to government but had yet to receive a response, said FAU director Jeremy Preston.
“Awareness has never been higher but it is not matched by action. The real prize is in getting people to want to change. The engagement of retailers is key and the advertising industry has lots of ideas. But nothing is coming back from government.”
n More than 100 representatives from Scottish food companies this week attended a workshop to explore how to reduce fat, salt and sugar in foods without compromising taste or shelf-life. Three working groups to develop implementation plans will now be created.
Siân Harrington