Food firms must act on obesity

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers are being 'hoodwinked' by food marketing ploys
Consumers are being 'hoodwinked' by food marketing ploys

Related tags Public health Nutrition

Food and drink manufacturers cannot “sit back” and watch the obesity crisis worsen, a leading weight loss surgeon has urged, following the release of a report calling for a 10-year strategy to tackle the UK's obesity crisis.

“Industry has a responsibility to help consumers make better choices by offering us great products with clear health benefits,”​ said Dr Sally Norton, a leading National Health Service surgeon and health consultant.

Although she said she was not criticising the food industry, Norton called for it to take responsibility by eliminating misleading labelling and reducing portion sizes.

It was also unfair to make false health claims, which were “marketing ploys deliberately designed to hoodwink consumers”,​ she said.

‘Hoodwink customers’

“I’m not attacking manufacturers of chocolate or crisps for example – all I am saying is that whatever industry you’re in and however large or small your company is, there are ways to improve your products to help consumers make healthier choices.”

Norton’s call came in the same week that the organisation 2020health released a report calling for a 10-year strategy to tackle the obesity crisis.

As part of the strategy, the report, which was released last month and titled ‘Careless eating costs lives’, called for the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal to be translated into legislation, and to be phased in before 2020.

Piecemeal solutions to tackle the obesity crisis had been tried in the past and shown to be inadequate, said Julia Manning, chief executive of 2020health.

“According to the WHO​ [World Health Organisation] we are the ‘fat-man’ of Europe and this has severe consequences for us as a nation,”​ she said.

Continue to rise

Unless there was a cross-cutting strategy that everyone from the government down took seriously, obesity would continue to rise and devastate individuals as well as the nation.

Obesity was such a problem in the UK that it threatened not only the physical health of the nation, but possibly its economic security too, warned Manning.

There wasn’t one significant cause of the UK's widespread obesity problem, she added. “We have a culture of excess, but there is no single reason for our obesity problem and it's fallacious to suggest anything otherwise.”

Meanwhile, a report released today (November 20) by the McKinsey Global Institute said obesity had a worldwide cost of £1.3tn, which was about the same as smoking.

Worldwide cost of £1.3tn

Some 2.1bn people around the world were obese or overweight, its said, and follows a report released earlier this week that cited 'secret' snacking​ as a contributor to the crisis.

Moreover, food firms were urged to reformulate food and drink to steer the world's population away from obesity. 

But a tax on fatty foods would not prove beneficial, the report's authors claimed.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England (PHE) told the BBC​: "The report is a useful contribution to the obesity debate. PHE has consistently said that simple education messages alone are not enough to tackle obesity."

However, food firms have worked relentlessly to reduce the fat, salt and sugar content on food and drink.

Last year, more than half of the food manufacturing and retail industry pledged to remove one-and-a-half Olympic swimming pools of saturated fat from their products.

At the time, Melanie Leech, the Food and Drink Federation's director general said: "Today's announcement yet again underlines food and drink manufacturers' determination to play a full part in supporting improved public health."

Who pledged to remove what?

  • Nestlé: 3,800t of saturated fat from Kit Kat bars per year through reformulation
  • Tesco: 32t of saturated fat from products such as breadsticks
  • Morrisons: 50t of saturated fat by reformulating its spreads range
  • Cricketer Farm: 1.5t of saturated fat by switching one of its retail customers to half-fat cheese

Related news

Show more


f\ood firms must help with Britain's Obesity

Posted by bridget hancock,

Great pledges from some big firms but we need to remove all hidden MSG and Corn Syrup and chemical enhancers in food. We need to shift towards only eating food with ingredients we can find in the kitchen... Some of the products being sold as food ( to nourish our bodies ) is not food at all.

Report abuse

Health Professionals Must Act on Obesity

Posted by Dave Peters,

The "obesity crisis" is a logical consequence of human nature and a thriving capitalist society. Singling out one section of our society and suggesting that the magic solution lies in their hands is worse than unhelpful. If "we" as a society feel that "we" have a problem then "we" must do something about it - not "they"

Report abuse


Posted by Chris,

Choice is the operative word here. Until people 'want' to eat healthy foods, they will choose the non-healthy ones. The manufactures of added value foods are in a difficult position as well! You reduce portion size & people think they are being ripped off (and will probably buy two and eat both) - you bulk out with more veg do decrease energy density & people think you've cheapened the recipe - you say you've reduced fat/salt & people think it will taste bad & buy something else!! As always, it comes down to education and changing the way people think. The healthier products are already out there, and the unhealthy ones are fine in moderation.

Report abuse

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast