Report: UK obesity plan will fail without action on obese unhealthy food

Ministers have warned that their efforts to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis are likely to fail as the public is constantly being “bombarded” with unhealthy food choices.

Britain has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, with two out of three adults overweight or obese and the NHS spends £6 billion a year treating obesity-related ill health, a figure that is expected to rise to £10 billion a year. By 2050. The government has announced plans to introduce a 9 p.m. divider on television and a ban on paid online advertising of unhealthy food and drinks, as well as new restrictions on the promotion of unhealthy food and drinks in retail outlets and online.

However, a damning 28-page report, commissioned by the government’s Obesity Research Unit and seen by The Guardian, warns that these efforts will fail unless broader action is taken to urgently change the entire food environment.

The review by the Center for Food Policy at City University of London found that the easy accessibility and availability of unhealthy foods 24 hours a day across the UK makes losing weight ‘difficult’ for the millions of people trying it. The review found that “people involved in weight management reported eating more food, simply because food was always readily available and this close and constant exposure led them to want to eat more often.”

“People have also reported that receiving promotions everywhere makes it very difficult not to think about food or make unplanned purchases from HFSS. [high in fat, salt or sugar] food.”

Even Brits who are “trying hard” to lose weight are “frustrated in their efforts” by the amount of unhealthy food they encounter every day. City University experts conducted a review of the Obesity Policy Research Unit of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which is conducting independent research to inform ministers.

The review concluded that even well-designed weight management services would have only a “limited impact” on Britain’s long-term efforts to promote and maintain weight loss if ministers failed to simultaneously improve the food environment.

Kimberly Neff, lead author of the review, said: “This review highlights not only how difficult it is to lose weight in Britain, and keep it off, but also that it is not just about willpower or self-control: even people who are really trying to thwart their efforts through choices are often very difficult. Unhealthy food is everywhere – easy to find, cheap to buy, fast and attractive.”

The review found that the relatively low cost of unhealthy food options made weight management “particularly difficult” for people on low incomes, with unhealthy foods more likely to be promoted and displayed in stores and supermarkets.

“With Christmas gifts galore in supermarkets, and New Year’s resolutions just around the corner, the narrative needs to change so that instead of following the usual January diet, people are asking for a nutritional environment that supports them to be healthy,” Neve said. , Research Assistant in the Food Policy and Systems Analysis Work Stream of the Obesity Policy Research Unit of the National Institute for Human Rights at the City University Center for Food Policy. “So you need a policy of equal opportunity for the industry to start making changes.”

Experts not involved in the review said its findings were incredibly stark.

Jane Deville-Almond, chair of the British Obesity Society, said: “Virtually every activity we encounter, outside our homes today, involves our senses being bombarded with the smell of food. The sad truth is that many of these foods are considered poor food choices, especially if we are trying Lose weight or eat more healthy foods.”

She said Britain would have to “guide changes” in the food environment if it was to become healthier. “Movies, entertainment and activity centers, hospitals, workplaces, supermarkets and food outlets all need to work on and promote healthy, delicious options.”

Caroline Cerny, who leads the coalition at the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), said the review showed Britain’s obesity crisis “is not a problem of individual behavior and lack of will” and “has much more to do with our environments”. “The health problems in the UK reflect an environment full of unhealthy food and drinks,” she added.

A separate OHA report published earlier this year stated that Britons are exposed to an “obesogenic environment” from birth, “an environment in which calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods are available, plentiful, affordable, natural and where opportunities for physical activity are lacking.” integrated into everyday life.

The new review finds that people often make diet plans, but that stores, supermarkets and ads on public transportation and workplaces can make it nearly impossible for them to stick to their routine.

“The ubiquity and appeal of unhealthy foods means that people who are trying so hard to lose weight or keep it off should avoid parts of the food environment — a certain aisle at the supermarket, work canteen, or a friend’s party — until they can stick to healthy eating plans,” he said.

“The government’s attempts to address this by imposing new restrictions on fast food marketing in 2022 is a positive first step,” Cerny said. “But we need more, including duties on the food industry, to incentivize them to produce healthy products.”

Ministers are urged to accept seven policy recommendations. This includes changing the balance in the UK food environment so that there are more discounts on healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables. The review urges that companies should be helped to “provide healthier choices in the workplace” for employees, and fast food outlets should be incentivized to sell healthier options.

Tam Fry, president of the National Obesity Forum, said similar measures were urged a decade ago, but ministers failed to act. “The Government Responsibility Deal launched in 2011 was an attempt to address all issues related to HFSS food and was accepted by the food companies as long as it was free of regulation. The government rejected the legislation and the deal collapsed. The demands of the researchers should now be enforced – no conditional, no reservations.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “As part of our obesity strategy to make the nation fit and healthy, we are introducing mandatory calorie labeling in large restaurants, cafes and fast food, while restricting advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar to be shown on TV. before 9pm and in paid online ads, as well as restricting promotions of less healthy foods in stores and online.

In addition, we have invested £70m in adult weight management services available through the NHS and councils, so that people living with obesity can get support that can help them lose weight.

“The Office of Health Improvement and Disparities will build on our national efforts to tackle obesity, improve mental health, and promote physical activity.”

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