Jamie Oliver slammed the obesity Call to Action plan as “regurgitated, patronising rubbish.” The TV chef argued the remedy lies with education and fears that thousands will suffer unless the government devises a more creative solution.
The government’s plan aims to reduce the national level of UK obesity by urging the nation to eat and drink less. In addition to persuading Britons to reduce their calorie intake by 5bn calories a day, the government is urging local authorities and the food and drink industry to play their part in helping to tackle the crisis, which currently costs the National Health Service £9bn a year.
But manufacturers have defended their track record and pledged to continue their efforts under the new framework set out by the Department of Health.
Terry Jones, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, told Food Manufacture.co.uk: “Food firms have a great track record of positive contributions to improving public health including clear labelling and reformulation of products, to help consumers make healthy choices.
“We are committed to continuing to work in partnership with the Department of Health and others through the Public Health Responsibility Deal to play our part in supporting people to achieve an appropriate calorie intake and a healthy lifestyle.”
Jones acknowledged that obesity problem was “very complex” and required “a complex range of solutions”. The government’s new plan will provide an opportunity for the industry to show what further contribution it can make in the future, he added.
“It is a case of building what’s gone on in the past 10 years in terms of front-of-pack labelling and reformulation. We could look at what firms can do in terms of reducing portions for example but it can’t just come from manufacturers; we are just one cog in a much bigger machine.”
The framework was also welcomed by the retail industry. Andrew Opie, director of food policy at British Retailers Consortium, said “retailers have long recognised they have a part to play.”
Earlier this year, the UK's seven largest food retailers, all members of the British Retail Consortium, committed themselves to every relevant pledge on food and alcohol in the Government's Public Health Responsibility Deal, he said.
"But understanding consumer behaviour is key to tackling obesity. Reducing the calories in a product doesn't work if people just eat something extra as well. We are doing a lot to help, but individuals have to take responsibility for the choices they make and there must be recognition of the role of exercise and education."
Meanwhile, others were less impressed. Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer report firm, Which? said: “Food and drink manufacturers must cut calories from their products where possible. They must also promote healthier options. But expecting them to do this voluntarily through a vague call to action is naïve.”
The Children’s Food Campaign described the plans as “deeply disappointing.” It questioned the validity of the calorie reduction plans which it believes will conflict with the commercial interests of many firms.
The organisation’s campaigns director Charlie Powell said: “We are witnessing breath-taking procrastination from a complacent government more intent on cosying up to industry than providing a robust regulatory response to reverse the record levels of obesity which place the UK as the fattest nation in Europe.”