UK doctors unite to tackle obesity

By Amanda Johnson 25/02/2013

A new report published last week in the UK has come up with some comprehensive recommendations on tackling obesity. The report, Measuring up: the medical profession’s prescription for the nation’s obesity crisis, follows a 6-month inquiry by a steering group with representatives from 20 of the Royal Medical Colleges and Faculties.

The report begins by describing the UK as the ‘fat man’ of Europe, with two thirds of adults overweight or obese. Unfortunately, In New Zealand, the obesity figures are similar, with one in three adults overweight (37.0%) and a further one in four obese (27.8%).

The report presents an action plan and sets out key recommendations for healthcare professionals, local and national government, industry and schools which it believes will help tackle the nation’s obesity crisis.

Recommendations include:

1. Education and training programmes for healthcare professionals.

2. Investing £100m (NZ$181m) in weight management services in each of the next three financial years to extend and increase provision of weight management services across the country, to mirror the provision of smoking cessation services.

3. Nutritional standards for food in hospitals.

4. Increasing support for new parents by ‘skilling up’ the early years workforce to deliver basic food preparation skills to new mothers and fathers.

5. Applying mandatory food- and nutrient-based standards to all schools in England.

6. Reducing proximity of fast food outlets to schools, colleges, leisure centres and other places where children gather.

7. Implementing a ban on advertising of foods high in saturated fats, sugar and salt before 9pm.

8. For an initial one year period, taxing all sugary soft drinks, increasing the price by at least 20%. This would be an experimental measure, looking at price elasticity, substitution effects, and to what extent it has an impact upon consumption patterns and producer/retailer responses.

9. Major food manufacturers and supermarkets should agree in the next year a unified system of traffic light food labelling and visible calorie indicators for restaurants, especially fast food outlets.

10. Public Health England should provide guidance to Directors of Public Health in working with local authorities to encourage active travel and protect or increase green spaces to make the healthy option the easy option.

Some of the recommendations have attracted controversy, with a report from the BBC highlighting taxing fizzy drinks and banning junk food ads

The argument against a ‘Nanny State often arises when this type of report is published; however, Professor Terence Stephenson, a paediatrician and chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, told the BBC that there was no “silver bullet” for tackling obesity, instead the entire culture around eating needed to change to make it easier to make healthy decisions.

“I choose what I eat or whether I smoke, what people have told us is they want help to swim with the tide rather than against the current to make the healthy choice the easy one,” he said.

The report avoids the ‘blame game’, stating that obesity is not the fault of any one government, organisation or individual. Instead, they say, “it is a problem that has crept up on us and must now be tackled urgently through collective action.”

A lot of the recommendations highlight issues that are very relevant to New Zealand, and we should take note and watch carefully to see whether these recommendations are implemented in the UK, and if so, what effect they have.

We certainly need to start taking obesity seriously in this country, and we need to support those who want to make changes to improve their health, by promoting healthy environments (especially for children), by investing in weight management services, and by making healthy choices easier for people.