Public 'need to be more honest about eating habits'


Dame Sally Davies: "People are not honest with themselves about what they're eating and drinking "

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People need to be more honest about how much they eat and drink if obesity levels are to be cut, ministers say.

The message formed a central theme of the new obesity strategy for England as the government tried to stress the importance of personal responsibility.

In doing so, it rejected calls to introduce legislation to change behaviour, such as a "fat tax".

But the strategy was labelled "pathetic and stupid" by experts, who warned it would do little to solve the problem.

Instead of proposing using regulation, the strategy talked about creating the right environment for individuals to make healthier choices.

This included getting councils to use their powers to encourage more physical activity through schemes such as cycling networks and green spaces.

It also said industry had a role to play and promised to build on the responsibility deal, which was announced at the start of this year and saw private firms sign up to a series of pledges, including introducing calorie counts on menus and reducing salt levels in food.

Reverse the tide

Mr Lansley said: "We have to halt and then reverse the tide of obesity in this country.

"Government has a role to play, but it is clear that we cannot do this alone."

When asked about why the government was not more keen on legislation, he said by working in partnership, more could be achieved faster.

However, he admitted officials would continue to monitor the international evidence where countries were trying tougher legislation.

New daily calorie guidelines

  • Alongside the obesity strategy, ministers also announced new recommended levels of energy intake following a review by advisers.
  • It is the first time for 20 years that they have been changed.
  • Despite calling for people to eat less, the guidelines actually increase the amount people can eat to maintain a healthy weight.
  • For a man of average height, the daily amount has increased from 2,550 calories to 2,605.
  • For women it has increased from 1,940 to 2,079.
  • But before you get too carried away, officials stressed that most people are already eating more than the new guidelines.

More than 60% of adults and 23% of four to five-year-olds are overweight or obese in England, making it one of the most overweight nations in Europe.

As part of the strategy, Mr Lansley said the government was looking for rates to start falling by 2020.

To achieve this, individuals need to be honest about what they are eating, Professor Sally Davies, the chief medical officer said.

"It is about what we eat, how we cook it and about portion size."

She said one of the problems was that people were not even honest with themselves about their diets, never mind health professionals.

Figures set out in the strategy suggest that the average adult consumes 10% more calories than they should.

But Professor Philip James, of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, said it was a "stupid" and "pathetic" response to the problem.

"It is not simply a question of personal responsibility. There is an environmental problem in terms of the food system we have."

He went on to say that the junk food industry "manipulated" individuals into consuming their products and that was why legislation was needed.

And Charlie Powell, campaigns director of the Children's Food Campaign, said: "This is a deeply disappointing and utterly inadequate response which represents a squandered opportunity to address the obesity crisis.

"High in rhetoric and lacking in substance, it is nothing less than an abdication of the government's responsibility to protect public health."

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott added: "This is very disappointing. We need to do much more to tackle this problem."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    The government are right on this one. A fat tax gives the message that there is good food and bad food, whereas the message should be that a balanced diet is needed with a wide range of food in the correct proportions (British Dietetic Association). Anyone needing to lose weight should stick to the same proportions but eat smaller amounts of each group. I've lost a stone on this principle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    The problem is the clever people who make vast profits making our food have turned us into 'sugar addicts'. Butter, bacon, steak and sausages are not the problem. Fizzy drinks, bread, all processed food and takeaways are. But don't worry when you reach hospital with diabetes and heart disease you'll be fed with pharmaceuticals who are in with the supermarkets. We've all been taken for a ride!

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    They can say what they like but I don't have to take any notice of them. I drink more than the "recommended" weekly limits and do occaisionally get a bit fry pan happy especially with cooked breakfasts but my choice. As to those that espouse the view that we should not spend taxes on the obese - well there is a lot of things I don't want my taxes spent on - eg fertility treatments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Eat healthily (if you know how), walk regularly (physically and mentally good for you) and have a little bit of what you fancy every now and then - it's not rocket science!

    There are a lot of reasons, physical and mental, why people put on weight and find it difficult to lose. But absolutely the only way to lose the weight is to change your lifestyle. There are no shortcuts!

  • Comment number 283.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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