The government’s decision to abolish the panel of experts advising ministers on tackling obesity is like “turning the policy-clock back 10 years”, according to panel member Professor Timothy Lang.
Lang, who is the professor of food policy at City University London, hit out at health secretary Andrew Lansley’s decision, describing it as a “dangerous experiment”.
He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “To abolish the committee is ridiculous and basically turning the policy clock back 10 years.
“I think it shows this government clearly doesn’t want a systems approach to tackling the issue of obesity, something that fully addressed the complexity of the situation. It is more interested in throwing all its eggs into the very weak Responsibility Deal.”
The move to abolish the panel was taken after Lansley’s decision to focus on the controversial Responsibility Deal, described by TV chef Jamie Oliver as “worthless, regurgitated rubbish”.
The new policy will focus on urging people to eat and drink less and encouraging the food industry to make voluntary cuts in the number of calories in its products.
The decision also followed accusations from ex-panel members that the government was too concerned with the opinion of food and drinks companies rather than scientific expertise.
Lang branded industry figures that follow the new policy as “stupid”, fearing that the new policy will undo a decade worth of work that the panel had provided free of charge.
“It is obvious they are only going to allow voluntary measures from businesses and are flaunting worldwide obesity research carried out over the last decade,” he said.
His anger was shared by the Faculty of Public Health, which described the decision to disband the panel as “baffling.”
Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “The Faculty of Public Health is deeply concerned by the government’s baffling decision to disband its expert group on obesity. Only a month ago, as part of its Call to Action on Obesity, the government said it would be working with a range of partners to reverse the tide of obesity.”
The obesity crisis is estimated to cost the UK £20bn in lost productivity, and it is vital for the public’s health that government policy is based on evidence of what works, she said.
Davies added that a comprehensive, evidence-based obesity strategy is still not in place fearing, in the absence of an expert group, it “could be further away than ever”.
However, The Department of Health defended the decision and insisted that expert advice will remain a key factor within the new policy and thanked the previous panel for its work.
A spokeswoman said: “The Government has made public health a priority and as such we are bringing in a new approach. In light of this we are also bringing in new advisory arrangements for obesity.
Dr Susan Jebb will continue as science adviser, and there will be a new National Ambition Review Group on obesity, which will bring together key partners and experts from the academic and scientific field. Public Health England will also play a crucial role in providing robust intelligence and evidence to local areas.”