Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Government Call to Action on Obesity

The government is calling for action to stop obesity rising The government is calling for action to stop obesity rising

On 13 October 2011, the government released a new paper, ‘Healthy lives, healthy people: a call to action on obesity [11]' their strategy to address the nation’s rising levels of obesity.

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley’s foreword offers an overview of how the government will look to tackle the issue:
“Past efforts have not succeeded in turning the tide.

We need a new way of looking at the issue - and new approaches to tackling it together.”

Who have the Government been working with?

The Government has enlisted the help of:

  • Academic and clinical experts
  • Health charities
  • NHS practitioners
  • The wider public sector involved in front-line work
  • Key players in the food industry
  • Key players in the physical activity sector

A key report that informs the new paper is the Government Office for Science’s 2007 ‘Foresight report’. [12]

Targets for the call to action on obesity

The following targets have been set, which the Health Secretary describes as “truly stretching ambitions”:

Government view on an overweight Britain

The government appears to place the principle cause of weight gain on our calorie intake.

Mr Lansley states:

“We need to be honest with ourselves and recognise that we need to make some changes to control our weight. Increasing physical activity is important but, for most of us who are overweight and obese, eating and drinking less is key to weight loss.”

The Health Secretary accepts that busy lifestyles of the 21st century can make it harder to make healthy choices.

How does the government plan to reduce obesity?

The government will rely on local government to play the lead role in developing and implementing strategies and these will be supported with “high quality data and evidence of ‘what works’”.

Change4Life will continue to play a strong part in communicating the importance of healthy lifestyles.

A key initiative being launched is to urge business to take a leading role to reduce calorie intake. The target is to collectively reduce the national energy intake by 5 billion calories a day.

Will there be a fat tax in the UK as a result?

Calls for a ‘fat tax’, similar to one recently brought in by Denmark which taxes any food with a saturated fat content of over 2.3%, have been rejected.

Criticisms of the report

Professor Philip James, of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, was vocal in his displeasure with the report, labelling the plans as pathetic, stating:

"It is not simply a question of personal responsibility. There is an environmental problem in terms of the food system we have."

Taking in too many calories?

A criticism that can be made is that the report does not so well address why people may be taking in too many calories.

A potential reason is the lack of good quality food available within people’s budget.

Cheaper food tends to be more calorific but lower in vital vitamins and minerals and therefore people can feel ‘unsatisfied’ without knowing why and therefore prone to eat more to fill the need.

One could argue that the government should focus more on ensuring the food industry provides fresher and nutrient rich foods in place of much of the prepared foods that currently line many of our supermarket aisles.