DoH and FDF move up a gear in struggle against obesity

By Gavin Kermack

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Convenience foods Nutrition Obesity

New steps in food’s role in the fight against obesity in the UK are being taken today by the DoH and the FDF.

Obesity is a growing concern in the UK, with 67 per cent of men and 56 per cent of women in 2006 classified as obese or overweight. Almost 30 per cent of children under the age of 16 are obese or overweight.

Health secretary Alan Johnson is to make an announcement regarding the coalition of several organisations as part of the Change4Life campaign. These are expected to include both food manufacturers and retailers.

The Change4Life campaign, which is spearheaded by the Department of Health (DoH), is intended to promote healthy eating patterns amongst UK citizens and encourage exercise in order to stem the country’s spiralling obesity epidemic.

Meanwhile, the obesity problem is also being discussed tonight in a debate at Whitehall organized by the industry representative body the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the government think tank Foresight.

The debate between senior industry executives and key stakeholders will focus on whether or not convenience foods can play a positive role in tackling obesity.

Energy and overeating

According to a preview of the debate, Susan Jebb, head of human nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council, will say: “Many convenience foods are energy dense and pose a real risk of overeating. If convenience foods are an option in the future, we need to rethink how they fit in a healthy diet.”

The debate marks the first anniversary of the Foresight report on obesity, which predicted that by 2050, 60% of men and 50% of women could be obese.

Although the debate does not form part of the Change4Life programme, the FDF said that there may be some cooperation with the DoH in the future.

A spokesperson told, “The FDF is aware that some of its members have expressed an interest in the Change4Life campaign and is talking to the DoH about ways to get members directly involved. The FDF considers the work that its members have been doing in areas such as salt reformulation, labelling and workplace wellbeing as being potentially relevant to the campaign.”

A pledge for the future

As part of his Change4Life announcement, Johnson will give key information about the future of the campaign, including which food manufacturers and retailers will be leading the initiative.

It is believed that as well as a number of food producers, two of the ‘big four’ UK supermarket chains (Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons) have pledged to take part in the programme. also learned that Johnson will elaborate on the Healthy Towns campaign, which is part of the Change4Life programme.

The DoH announced this morning that nine UK towns will share an award of £30m to enable them to run various schemes promoting healthy lifestyles.

The plans include running an award scheme for healthy food in fast food establishments, restaurants, cafes and shops in Tower Hamlets, London, targeting the area around the site of the future Olympic Park for the 2012 games.

The aim of the Change4Life campaign, which launched in October, is “to help every family in England eat well, move more and liver longer”​.

It primarily targets families, in order to inform parents of how best to educate their children about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, as its focus is on long-term prevention.

Johnson said, “Obesity is the biggest health challenge we face - every year 9,000 people die prematurely and a third of 11 and 12 year olds are overweight.”

Obesity has been linked to a number of serious diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease and several types of cancer.

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