News ID: 272310
Published: 1138 GMT August 01, 2020

Key reasons UK’s obesity strategy may not work for everyone

Key reasons UK’s obesity strategy may not work for everyone

COVID-19 has affected a disproportionate number of people with obesity in the UK. As such, the government has seen the pandemic as a ‘wake-up call’ to the health risks of living with obesity.


They have recently announced a long overdue strategy to tackle obesity in Britain, reported.

Some of the proposals aimed at significantly reducing obesity rates, include:


● banning TV and online advertising of foods high in fat, sugar, or salt before 9 p.m.

● calorie labeling on menus in restaurants and takeaways, alongside consulting on alcohol calorie labeling and front-of-pack “traffic light” labeling — where “green” products are considered more nutritious, and “red” products less

● expansion of the NHS’s weight management service (including apps and online tools)

● incentives for GPs to support patients with obesity in their weight loss, and prescribe exercise and social activities.


However, the proposals are not without criticism, and some feel the government’s plans aren’t enough to end obesity. And though many of the proposed interventions are thoroughly researched, not all methods will be effective for everyone. Here are key problems with the strategy.


It doesn’t target every driver of obesity


Multiple factors combine to influence body weight. Our psychology and biology, and what motivates us to eat or be physically active, all interrelate with societal-level food supply, social influence (such as food marketing), and our physical activity environment (such as how walkable and connected a community is, and how much recreational space it has available).

One of the government’s biggest targets is to promote increased physical activity among the population. This includes investment into active transport infrastructure to increase physical activity, and incentives for GPs to prescribe exercise or other social activities.

Research shows physical activity is higher in neighborhoods with more parks and public transport and steps to promote more physical activity should be applauded. But they don’t fully recognize the complexity of obesity.


Access to healthier foods is key


The government has also announced aims to promote healthy eating. Some of the strategies include banning junk food advertising on TV before 9 p.m. and ending offers on unhealthy foods.

However, not all these strategies have been shown to work. Government research in 2019 even calculated a pre-watershed junk food advert ban would only reduce the average daily calorie intake by about 1.7 calories. Instead, improving access to healthier, affordable foods will be extremely important for bringing wider change.

Increasing offers on fruits and vegetables, and ending “buy-one-get-one-free” offers on unhealthy foods in stores are likely to help. However, the continued prevalence of fast food outlets in some areas, particularly deprived ones, may continue to undermine access to healthier alternatives for many people.

Research has shown that access to unhealthy food options, which tend to be cheaper and may be perceived as better tasting, increases intake of them. For this reason, reducing access to unhealthy food options and improving access to healthier options need to be considered together. Doing so will lead to better eating habits and reduced obesity risk.


Calorie labeling doesn’t necessarily work


The government pledge to put calorie labels on both alcohol and in restaurants is long overdue. We know nutritional information can help people when making food and drink choices, making them feel more informed.

However, this won’t help everyone restrict intake of unhealthy foods. According to the theory of planned behavior, consumer behaviors are ultimately dictated by a combination of attitude, social norms (what everyone around you does), and whether someone feels they’re capable of changing. So having nutritional information won’t necessarily override these other factors.

Understanding nutritional information also requires both literacy and numeracy skills, which could inadvertently widen the health gap, as those who have difficulty interpreting such information are more likely to come from more deprived backgrounds.

Research on food product calorie labeling and “traffic light” systems has shown that while consumers may look at such labels, they don’t necessarily process this information further. In some cases, these labels have little effect on calorie consumption or product choice.



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