Regulation calls grow to counter obesity ‘crisis’

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

Obesity in children in big cities such as Birmingham is at 'crisis' levels
Obesity in children in big cities such as Birmingham is at 'crisis' levels

Related tags: Kantar worldpanel, Nutrition, Obesity

Britain’s obesity “crisis” is leading to mounting calls by health groups for tougher regulation to counter the marketing and sale of foods high in fat, sugar and salt in the lead up to next year’s general election.

This follows the latest research from market research company Kantar Worldpanel, revealed at a seminar on obesity in London last month organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum. It points to increasing consumer purchases of foods high in saturated fats and sugar.

Cathy Capelin, strategic insight director – nutrition for Kantar Worldpanel, said: “If we just do an average calorie density​ [analysis] we can see that the mix of food and drink that we are putting into our shopping baskets is more calorie dense every year and we are certainly not seeing any signs of that coming down yet.”

More than doubled

While the volume of food and drink that is brought back into the home had increased by 5% over the past seven years, said Capelin, calories had increased by 11%. Both the volumes of sugar and saturated fats bought had “more than doubled”,​ she added. “So there is no evidence that shopping baskets are getting healthier.”

She also noted that 37% of all saturated fat and 32% of sugar that was purchased was related to some form of promotion. “So they​ [promotions] are really big drivers in terms of what we are picking up when we go to supermarkets.” ​Poorer people and obese consumers also “show more reliance on snacking and processed foods”​, she added.

On average, 64% of the population is overweight across England, said Jamie Blackshaw, team leader for obesity and healthy weight at Public Health England (PHE). “Obesity is a serious public health issue,”​ said Blackshaw. “One thing we know is there is no silver bullet.​” He said tackling the “obesogenic environment​” was a key objective for PHE.

Epidemic

“Birmingham is a city in crisis,”​ warned Dr Andrew Coward, chair of Birmingham South Central Clinical Commissioning Group. “There is an epidemic of childhood obesity in our city.”​ Coward was particularly scathing of the food industry for promoting calorie-dense foods, which far outweighed any public sector efforts to encourage healthier diets, he claimed.

“I would like to think a future government would take a sugar tax on fizzy drinks really seriously,”​ said Coward. Other health experts at the seminar supported this view.

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