FOR THOSE of you opening this month’s magazine expecting to see Jane Ellison on this page, I apologise. The health minister was due to guest edit this month but due to the Ebola issue, events took over and it didn’t quite happen.
However, she has penned two articles for this special issue on health and vitality. The first, on page 13, shows the confidence the minister and the government still have in the voluntary Responsibility Deal to curb rising levels of obesity – and in turn relieve the strain on the NHS.
The minister’s assessment of research by Mintel on the eating-out market (page 19) affirms her loyalty to this form of arm’slength regulation. The fact that “70% of fastfood and takeaway meals and one-third of all meals sold on the high street have calories labelled” can, quite rightly, be labelled as progress. However, with just 15 out-of-home businesses committed to reduce calories, the minister is spot on when she suggests “there is further to go”. Campaigners would argue this is an understatement.
On page 22 you’ll find what experts think about the current government’s policies – and the one thing they’d change. The views of the campaigner, the policy expert, the nutritionist and the caterer show how hard it is to find agreement. And the soft-touch approach favoured by the coalition will become an even harder sell if obesity levels keep rising.
The chief executive of NHS England has referred to obesity as “the new smoking”, representing a “slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising healthcare costs”.
Using seatbelts and quitting smoking required tough regulation. Being health minister requires a tough skin. “Jane Ellison needs to sharpen up very quickly indeed”, is the call from one campaign group on page 21.
With 23 years of experience in retail behind her, Ellison will know as well as anyone how to engage with business and deliver results. Progress was never going to happen overnight and salt does offer a pinch of encouragement. In the past decade, as the minister observes, intake has been cut 15%. But can the NHS survive another decade if the same tactics don’t work for fat and sugar?