Public 'need to be more honest about eating habits'
- 13 October 2011
- From the section Health
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.
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."