Government has to act to boost nation's health

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food policy Nutrition

Child obesity is continuing to rise
Child obesity is continuing to rise
The government must adopt a more unified policy framework to improve the health of the nation and curb the growth in obesity, food policy experts have urged.

The coalition government does not have a unified framework of targets, indicators and expected health outcomes, said Dr Corinna Hawkes, an honorary fellow in food policy at the Centre for Food Policy (CFP), London City University.

"There has been a fair degree of coherence in food policy to address unhealthy eating over the past decade,"​ said Hawkes. "But whether this is enough to get us to that joined up, integrated place we want to be and whether this move away from national food standards is a good thing, is another matter."

Off the radar

Speaking at a seminar on UK food policy in London last month, Hawkes said the issue of food poverty had "dropped off the radar," ​but welcomed government efforts to boost fruit and vegetable intake over the past decade. She noted the shift to voluntary approaches to further reduce the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Others, such as Professor Tim Lang, head of the CFP and Professor Erik Millstone of the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, were far more scathing. "[Health secretary Andrew] Lansley has abandoned attempts to improve public health,"​ said Millstone.

Geoff Tansey, honorary fellow at the Centre for Rural Economy, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, added: "The innovative things in political policy [on diet and health] are not happening in England, they are happening in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland."

Local level

Hawkes said the government's plans to devolve responsibility for public health to local authorities could yield benefits but not without nationally co-ordinated direction to support delivery. She said the ability for local authorities to work with, or even regulate, the industry at a local level was unclear.

"Will all local government have the incentive to work on food consumption issues? And will food policies to address health get lost in localisation?"​ she asked.

"Can the food sector play its full part when there is no real framework for what it actually should be doing across the full gamut of health, economic development, sustainability, etc?"

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