Sir David Amess, vice-chair for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Adult and Child Obesity, said there was a “real argument” that the food industry would benefit from legislation.
Speaking at a seminar on child obesity – part of Food Matters Live in London last month – Amess suggested that currently, only some manufacturers were making efforts to reformulate their products, which was impacting on their sales and distorting the market.
‘Start to impose restrictions’
“Under self-regulation, some companies do it, some don’t. If you start to impose restrictions, then they can all start looking at their marketing and advertising budgets fairly, as it becomes a level playing-field,” he said.
The government is expected to publish its childhood obesity strategy in the new year.
Speaking at the same conference, Dr Helen Walters, head of health at the Greater London Authority, also believed some form of regulation was the answer. “I sat on the Responsibility Deal steering group, and what struck me was how varied the approaches were from different parts of the industry. Some manufacturers are trying to reformulate as much as possible – but others aren’t that interested,” she said.
“In that situation, you need to balance that out by using regulation – at least until we’ve got the obesity issue under control.”
‘Some way to go’
During another debate on how brands influence food choices, Tom Sanders – emeritus professor of nutrition and dietetics at Kings College London – agreed that some form of regulation was necessary, but argued a tax on sugar wouldn’t work. “The food industry is moving in the right direction, but it has got some way to go,” he said.
“I would get rid of the ‘walk of shame’, I would stop impulse buying, and I would probably ban BOGOFs [buy one, get one free offers] and alcohol discounting – but I don't think taxation is a good idea as it punishes the poor.”
Sanders also suggested that calorific information on products had limited effect. “Time-pressed shoppers don’t really look at labels – especially when they are buying on brand loyalty.”