Is obesity a political priority?

Tackling obesity was one of the priorities set out by food sector stakeholders ahead of this month’s general election. But is it a priority for the political parties?

A sift through the manifestos shows a range of policies on offer: from a tax on meat and dairy and minimum unit pricing for alcohol to improved hospital food and new catering providers for schools.

Here are the key points from each manifesto.

Conservatives (obesity mentions: 2)

The Conservative manifesto offered little detail on plans to tackle obesity, but the emphasis certainly seems to be on behaviour charge rather than regulation and taxes. There will be a “long-term strategy for empowering people with lifestyle-related conditions such as obesity to live healthier lives, as well as tackling childhood obesity, heart disease and diabetes”.

Let’s not forget, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson also seems reluctant to extend the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL). “Rather than just taxing people more, we should look at how effective the so-called ‘sin taxes’ really are, and if they actually change behaviour,” he has said.

The Conservatives also pledged to “improve hospital food alongside our wider National Food Strategy”.

Labour (2)

Labour also wants to improve hospital food: “We will introduce mandatory standards for NHS in-patient food.” In its far bulkier manifesto, the party highlighted the country’s “epidemic in food-related ill health, obesity, malnutrition and diabetes”

Labour committed to extend the SDIL to milk drinks, but there was no mention of going further than that – for example to tax sugary foods, a policy that is gaining traction in the wake of the food industry’s struggle to cut sugar and meet voluntary reduction targets.

However, Labour did offer some more severe actions. “We will ban fast-food restaurants near schools and enforce stricter rules around the advertising of junk food and levels of salt in food.”

And on alcohol: “Alcoholic drinks will be labelled with clear health warnings. We will review the evidence on minimum pricing.”

Lib Dems (1)

The Lib Dems go a step further by committing to “introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol, taking note of the impact of the policy in Scotland”.

The Lib Dems also promised to “close loopholes” in the SDIL and extend it to include juice- and milk-based drinks that are high in added sugar”. They also want to restrict how products high in fat, salt and sugar are marketed and advertised by multiple retailers – though they don’t say how.

A strategy to tackle childhood obesity, including restricting the marketing of junk food to children, is another commitment. A National Food Strategy, including the use of public procurement policy, will also “promote the production and consumption of healthy, sustainable and affordable food and cut down on food waste”.

The party also wants to improve nutritional labelling. If elected, it would “require labelling for food products, in a readable font size, and     publication of information on calorie, fat, sugar and salt content in    restaurants and takeaways”.

Green Party (1)

The Green Party’s manifesto, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the most ambitious when it comes to healthier diets. The party wants to “incentivise changes in food consumption, by promoting the benefits of healthy diets, based on locally and sustainably produced food, and ‘less but better’ meat and dairy consumption”.

There will be carrots as well as sticks. For example, a tax on meat and dairy products – phased in over the next 10 years – will “support the transition to plant-based diets”.

The Greens would also “promote children’s access to healthy food and tackle childhood obesity, including by updating the School Food Standards to reflect the latest nutritional guidance and apply to all schools”. They would also rename ‘Free School Meals’ the ‘School Meals Allowance’ to “tackle stigma”.

On alcohol (and drugs), the Greens said government “needs to strike the right balance” between responsible adult use and the potential harms of problematic use. As such, a Green government would “prohibit commercial advertising of alcohol (and all other drugs) and introduce minimum unit pricing, which has been shown to reduce harmful drinking in Scotland”.

The party would also legislate for a right to food (a topic that crops up many of the manifestos), “giving everyone access to healthy, nutritious, locally grown food”. Intriguingly, they would also create “new providers to supply this food at an affordable price to schools”.

The SNP manifesto does not mention obesity (it has its own strategy to address a Scottish diet that “remains stubbornly unhealthy). Neither does Plaid Cymru’s. The Brexit party manifesto does not mention food or obesity.


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