Yes — you read the title correctly.
And no, it isn’t April Fools Day.
Recent reports from the UK newspaper The Guardian state that, ’the UK Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease.’
Commercial partners, The Guardian reports, have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches.
Engaging with the food industry is, I think, important. I was astounded to learn at last month’s conference, ’who cares about New Zealand’s Waistline’, that McDonald’s sell 1.3 million meals per week to New Zealanders. Small changes in product formulations could, therefore, have significant benefits on the food and nutrition intakes of our population. But let’s not kid ourselves. The key driver for any company is going to be profits. If offering consumers healthier foods is what the consumers want, and will drive up sales, then they may be all in favour of change — but if re-formulation of products, or a change in marketing practices, are likely to have a detrimental effect on sales, then they are unlikely to be implemented.
Let’s all keep talking to each other about how to tackle the obesity problem — but let’s leave it to the health experts to determine public health policies, and if need be regulation, to address this complex and ever-increasing problem. We don’t need the fast food companies dictating policy here in New Zealand!