The food industry’s responsibility for obesity and other health issues was in the spotlight this week, with top government and industry figures debating its role and snack industry chiefs facing a grilling from MPs.
Speaking at Westminster Diet and Health Forum’s Obesity 2003 national seminar, Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, the government’s key advisor on health issues, said food ingredients and promotion to children were among the issues that needed to be
examined if the country were to diffuse the “health time bomb”.
Sir Liam drew attention to sugar and fat content and the recent Food Standards Agency evidence into the effect of advertising on children.
“It’s not easy to diffuse the health time bomb but it is possible and there is no other choice,” he said.
One million fewer obese people would lead to 15,000 fewer heart disease cases, 34,000 fewer people with Type 2 diabetes and 99,000 fewer with high blood pressure, he added.
Sir Liam was joined by other key influencers, including Labour peer Lord Rea, who chairs the Associate Parliamentary Food and Health Forum, and Sir John Krebs, chair of the FSA.
Lord Rea said government accepted Sir Liam’s analysis of the issue. But he disagreed with Food and Drink Federation director general Sylvia Jay’s argument that advertising caused brand switching not increased consumption. “The most interesting thing about the FSA review is it showed shift in whole categories,” he said.
Companies who moved towards health messages and diets known to be good for the nation would “make very good profit” he said. “If they don’t, the regulator will have to come in.”
While all agreed food and exercise were equally as important in the solution, some suggested it was easier to improve nutrition than shift consumer lifestyles.
Later in the week, a Commons Health Select Committee looking into obesity was told fat people were not heavy consumers of confectionery or crisps. Cadbury Schweppes md Europe, middle east and Africa confectionery Andy Cosslett, and PepsiCo UK president Martin Glenn quoted market research which suggested obese people were lighter snackers than most.
They tended to be heavy consumers of meat, pies, eggs, bacon and takeaways, although Glenn said there might be an element of denial in feedback.
Siân Harrington and Anne Bruce