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Is the obesity battle lost?

The Journal

Last week’s announcement that by next summer we will have a consistent system of food labelling indicating the calories, fat, salt and sugar content of products is long overdue. Although the UK already has the largest number of products with labels in Europe, research has shown that consumers get confused by the wide variety used.

The delay — the issue has been under discussion for at least 10 years — has partly been a result of the fact that signing up to the scheme has been voluntary. One commentator noted: “This is a triumph for public health and common sense — but it just goes to show how the voluntary approach can be so much slower than government regulation.”  The powers that be are now confident that they have persuaded the food industry to come on board.

People advocating a consistent labelling system believe (or hope) that it will help with tackling the rising rates of obesity, on account of which, as far as Europe is concerned, the UK is facing a particular crisis.

Will standardisation of the labels make that much difference? Effective health campaigns in the UK have all been supported by legislation: stopping smoking, wearing seat-belts and tackling drink-driving, is, by regulating behaviour. Although the new system may help people understand what each product contains and help them decide what to buy, will it make any difference to what they actually eat? Preventing people from buying and eating unhealthy food would be impossible.

And could the new system have any impact on pharmacy? Those pharmacists who are already trying to support their obese or overweight patients may find it easier to explain how different products could fit into a balanced diet. But, if high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar products are to remain unregulated, the battle may already be lost.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11110193

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