UK Government vs Food Industry: Measures to Halve Child Obesity by 2030


by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Have you heard this?

It’s been all over the news…

The UK government just released a staggeringly lengthy list of measures to tackle child obesity.

And things are being shaken up! Chefs are panicking. Food companies are furious. TV producers trembling.

I’ve received countless questions about this… So what’s my take?

First, let’s look at the 3 big changes that’s got everyone up in arms:

  1. Menus in restaurants will need to tell you how many calories are in any dish you order.
  2. Adverts for junk food will be a no-no before 9pm.
  3. Supermarkets won’t be able to display tempting, sugary sweets at the checkout, or advertise multi-buy offers.

Sounds simple… no problem here, right?

Well not so fast! It’s worth taking a closer look, point by point.

1. Calories in all menus

Surely putting calorie information on a menu is quick, easy, and great for everyone… or maybe not?

The government says that adding calories to menus means people are likely to eat less as a result.

But when I read this, I was thinking the opposite may happen too…

After eating a “naughty” food, that guilt can lead to a binge-eating episode or what I call the what-the-hell effect. If we know something contains tons of calories, this effect kicks in and might make us consume even more…

For some of us, it’s all or nothing!

2. No more junk-food ads for kids

Our kids watch an average of 14 hours of TV each week. Which means they also see plenty of enticing ads for junk food (Oh dear!).

The government’s stepping in by proposing a ban on these pesky adverts until 9pm (Hooray!).

But wait a minute… When I look at the data, I can see that over a million kids are still watching TV by 9pm.

Most kids watch TV between 6 and 8pm, but over 1 million are still watching at 9pm (Childhood obesity: a plan for action).

So is 9pm going to be late enough? Debatable.

3. Supermarkets getting a scolding

The final big changes:

  • Removing sweets and treats from checkouts
  • Banning tempting BOGOF deals on “unhealthy foods”

Treats at checkouts have been a big problem for a long time… in particular for children. If they can’t resist them, they’ll ask for them… A lot. Loudly.

Or worse: grab them since they’re within arm’s reach(!)

BOGOF means Buy One, Get One Free – which is very tempting, in particular when you see those giant multi-packs of crisps (chips) that could feed an entire village, at a bargain…

Getting these bans proposed wasn’t an easy task: I’ve witnessed constant lobbying, pushing for these changes over the past 10 years. So it’s great the government listened, at last!

What I find a little disappointing is that the measures don’t encourage deals on fresh produce – possibly because of the difficulty to bring prices down. Which is a shame. For most people, prices do affect their food choices (tons of evidence here).

Overall, I believe the government’s actions are a fantastic step towards making a change. Though here at The Health Sciences Academy, we know that this isn’t the full picture…

Reducing our kids’ exposure to these foods at home and school is important too.

So we need to make sure we replace junky products with optimal nutritious alternatives to give them the best start in life.

That’s why the team and I work tirelessly, bringing together the latest science to produce our extensive training about the nutrition behind a child’s development. You can download the curriculum here.

 

 

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The-Health-Sciences-Academy-Alejandra-Ruani-small1-right Alejandra "Alex" Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for their students. She is a Harvard-trained scientist and UCL doctoral researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups.

Connect with Alex via email.


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5 Comments

  • anita

    Reply Reply July 23, 2018

    I am really happy we will be able to see calories in menus in the UK. I will definitely make me want to go for lower calorie options but also less sugar and fat which are the ones that tend to have tons of calories. Thank you!!

  • Don

    Reply Reply July 23, 2018

    I think what would be more helpful would be for supermarkets to post healthy alternatives on the shelves perhaps with items side by side, and develop healthy fast foods [if there is such a thing] and feature them. Lo carb / healthy recipes might be another thing they could offer, perhaps teaming up with a site like allrecipes and then featuring the ingredients in a healthy alternative recipe for the week.

  • Nikki Caldwell

    Reply Reply July 23, 2018

    Why is it okay for the North American gov’t to poison it’s people with salt and sugar?

  • Carol Leach

    Reply Reply July 24, 2018

    I think that is great, but can you imagine finally getting your anorexic child to the restaurant only for them to panic over the figures on the menu! There are an estimated 1.6m anorexics in the UK – and that figure doesn’t count all the irresponsible dieters who are straining their hearts and livers constantly by binge dieting. This move is going to make it very hard for them to cope in certain situations and the constant barrage of warnings will support more anorexic mindsets.

  • Bruce Stewart

    Reply Reply July 27, 2018

    Parents can’t or won’t take responsibility so the supermarkets and restaurants are forced to do it for them. Sad. I know it is important to feed our children properly but education might be a better approach. Start nutrition classes early. Send important information on nutrition to parents. Of course laziness is hard to overcome and junk food is made for the lazy.

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