Britain is now the most obese country in western Europe. Two-thirds of Britain is now overweight, with obesity establishing itself as the leading cause of premature death. One of the biggest costs to the NHS is obesity, and things are getting worse. Yet the British government’s half-hearted reforms are not working, mainly because they are targeting consumers, rather than the big brands that are creating this crisis. It is time to stop penalising the mothers who lack time to read the back of every box they pick up, the poor who have little access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and those who are subject to fiscal measures. It is time to hold the big brands to account. If the government want a nanny state, at least do it properly.
The sugar tax that came into effect in April had little effect on consumption as prices only increased by 18p-24p per litre. For many consumers, this did not deter them from purchasing sugary drinks as the level of tax is too low, thus rendering it ineffective. Why should consumers be the victims of taxation instead of the manufacturers who contribute little to the NHS but a great deal to obesity? Surely it is up to the manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks, especially as multi-national corporations such as Kellogg’s and Nestle avoid paying tax, which can be used to fight the battle against obesity.
If the government want a nanny-state, at least do it properly
The British public is being deceived by manufacturers. Unclear labelling and dishonest health claims can often lead to young people consuming more sugar and calories than they realise. Companies such as Deliveroo and Domino’s reduce the effort required in getting the food we all crave and love. It is unacceptable that companies such as Kellogg’s and PepsiCo are exploiting parents, students and young people who are short on time. Many menus do not clearly display the calories consumed. The dishonesty from manufacturers in terms of telling consumers how much sugar and fat is in their food, in a clear and concise way, is leading to consumers not knowing what they are eating. If the government wants to pass easy legislation to show that they are tackling the obesity crisis, packaging is where it needs to happen.
I am not an advocate for paternalism that dictates what consumers eat. We are smart enough to decide what we buy. Yet the subtle temptations of a Starbucks at the corner of every British high-street and the enticing scent of Greggs, with the added luxury of being able to walk in and out in a couple of minutes with a steak bake in your hands has contributed to the obesity crisis. Statistics by the University of Cambridge show that the heaviest concentrations of takeaways were in deprived areas, which have the highest rates of obesity in the UK.
It is unacceptable that companies such as Kellogg’s and PepsiCo are exploiting parents, students and young people who are short on time
Poorer people have little control over what they buy because they have little access to cheap and healthy food. Yet little is being done to control permits for new fast-food outlets that encourage the rise in obesity. Even more worryingly, the government is cutting funding for youth clubs and schools who educate on eating well. Education is required to enable consumers to make the right choices, yet the government is implementing feeble policies such as the sugar tax to pretend they care about the obesity crisis while cutting funding for the groups who are at the highest risk.
If we are to be subject to paternalism from the government, they could at least do it right. Unenthusiastic policies such as the sugar tax and letting multi-national companies get way with questionable packaging and advertising is not helping. A crackdown on major corporations, spending money on education about diet and the NHS, and not penalising the poor is the way to reduce obesity. Let’s not become the fattest nation in Europe by targeting the wrong people.