Britain is grappling with an obesity crisis that is inflicting a staggering economic toll of nearly £100 billion annually, as per a comprehensive report by the Tony Blair Institute. This figure, highlighted in a report published by The Times, indicates that the impact of obesity on national productivity is far more severe than previously estimated, being ninefold higher.
The financial implications are forecasted to escalate by an additional £10 billion over the coming 15 years. This total cost, inclusive of the £63 billion attributed to shorter life spans and compromised health due to obesity, equates to roughly 4% of the nation’s GDP.
Henry Dimbleby, the former government advisor on food, is advocating for stringent measures akin to those applied to tobacco, targeting junk food. He warns that without decisive action, Britain risks becoming a nation burdened by illness and economic decline. Dimbleby is poised to highlight these concerns in a speech at a Royal Society conference, stressing the potential strain on the NHS and consequent economic stagnation.
Amid these warnings, the government has postponed initiatives like the 9pm junk food advertising watershed and restrictions on promotional deals for unhealthy food products until 2025. Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has expressed a desire to offer health guidance in a non-patronising manner.
A Department of Health spokesperson reiterated the government’s commitment to tackling obesity, pointing to initiatives like food-labelling standards, investment in school sports, and healthy food vouchers for underprivileged families.
Hermione Dace from the Tony Blair Institute underscored the critical link between the nation’s health and its economic prosperity, calling for a revamped approach to promote healthier food options and discourage the profitability of ultra-processed and junk food.
The obesity epidemic has intensified, with two-thirds of British adults now classified as having overweight or obesity, a significant rise from half a generation ago. Notably, the average weights of British men and women have increased by 6kg and 5kg, respectively, since 1993.Read More
Japan’s healthcare system is set to introduce a novel obesity treatment covered by public medical insurance starting Wednesday (22nd of November, 2023), marking the first such inclusion in thirty years. Wegovy, produced by the Danish firm Novo Nordisk, will be accessible under the national health insurance following its approval for manufacture and sale in March.
The treatment contains semaglutide, a GLP-1 receptor agonist that not only enhances insulin production and lowers blood sugar but also suppresses appetite by inducing satiety and curbing cravings.
Coverage is specifically tailored for patients who are significantly overweight or have weight-related health complications such as high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, and Type 2 diabetes, and who have not seen results from lifestyle changes alone. Criteria for eligibility include having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 or above, or a BMI of 27 with associated comorbidities.
Wegovy is administered weekly through self-injection, with a monthly supply consisting of four pens. The cost varies according to the dose, from ¥1,876 (£9.99) for the smallest dose to ¥10,740 (£57.19) for the highest.
The drug joins Ozempic, also a GLP-1 receptor agonist with semaglutide by Novo Nordisk, on the market. While Ozempic targets Type 2 diabetes at lower doses, Wegovy is dosed higher specifically for weight loss.
Despite its medical purposes, there’s growing concern over Wegovy’s use for aesthetic weight loss, leading to potential drug shortages for those in medical need. This has prompted Japanese medical bodies to warn against such misuse, especially with the trend of “medical diets” offered by clinics to individuals without obesity or diabetes.
Research has pointed out the risk of severe gastrointestinal issues with these medications, a concern highlighted in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Yet, Novo Nordisk has cited an August report claiming Wegovy can cut the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events by 20% in adult individuals with overweight or obesity.
Previously, Japan’s insured treatment for obesity was limited to Mazindol, introduced in 1992, designated for severe obesity and capped at three months of use due to addiction risks.Read More
Recent scholarly insights have underlined a potentially transformative role that educators can play in combating the alarming rates of childhood obesity, particularly in the United States (US). As published in the reputable journal Nutrients, a meticulous study embarked on an exploratory journey to gauge the impact teachers could make in mitigating this health crisis among the younger generation.
The roots of childhood obesity have embedded themselves deep within the US, displaying a consistent upward trend, with a pronounced prevalence in disadvantaged regions. The escalating concern has drawn concerted interventions from health authorities at local, state, and federal levels, spotlighting schools as pivotal arenas for executing preventative measures.
At the heart of these initiatives lies an appreciable emphasis on the instrumental role of teachers. By being on the frontlines of programme delivery, they emerge as invaluable assets in recognising and diffusing obesity-curbing strategies among students. However, the pressing commitments inherent to the teaching profession pose a formidable challenge to prioritising their health – a dilemma exacerbated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought to light the imperative of maintaining teacher well-being.
In 2022, a seminal report from the RAND Corporation shed light on a concerning level of job-induced stress among teachers, pointing towards a positive correlation between employer-facilitated wellness programs and reduced stress levels. Multiple strands of research echo a similar sentiment: a robust student-teacher rapport is a cornerstone for fostering student engagement, regular attendance, enhanced emotional well-being, and an overall conducive academic atmosphere.
An investigative team from the American University, Washington, orchestrated an elaborate five-year intervention venture beginning in 2017. The primary objective was to immerse educators in a milieu of nutrition literacy, aimed at equipping them with the requisite skill set to impart obesity-preventive knowledge among elementary scholars in Washington, DC. The study encapsulated four schools, two of which were designated as control while the others were intervention cohorts. Teachers, pivotal to this initiative, furnished demographic details and partook in Teacher Health Surveys before and subsequent to the intervention period.
Survey feedback, encapsulated through a Likert scale, facilitated an overall health score, amalgamated from various metrics including chronic conditions, self-efficacy, health education ideologies, and general health standings. The project’s crux was to evaluate the influence of a professional development scheme on augmenting teachers’ capacity to infuse nutrition-centric discourse into their pedagogical regimen.
Each intervention session commenced with a wellness-centric activity, transitioning into a demonstration lesson from “Serving up MyPlate: A Yummy Curriculum.” Teachers at the intervention forefront were required to integrate a minimum of three nutrition-dedicated lessons throughout the academic year. To measure the pedagogical impact, a Student Nutrition Literacy Survey was administered at both the outset and the conclusion of the intervention.
The data depicted a collective participation of 92 educators from both the control and intervention factions. The demographic backdrop of these teachers showcased a reasonable level of uniformity across the schools. An age average of 36 years, a predominant female representation (84.8%), and a significant Black demographic (68.5%) constituted the participant profile.
A cadre of 55 teachers from the intervention spectrum attended the professional development suite, orchestrating 71 nutrition-oriented lessons. A meticulous Poisson regression analysis unearthed a predictive association among job stress, professional development attendance, and self-efficacy towards the incorporation of nutrition lessons. An incremental self-efficacy score and each additional session attendance manifested a 25% and 48% increased likelihood, respectively, of infusing nutrition lectures into the curriculum. Interestingly, a stark inverse relation was observed between stress levels and self-efficacy scores.
The investigative lens also focused on the ripple effect of health scores, lesson implementations, and aggregate health scores. A noticeable inverse relationship emerged between lesson execution and stress levels, indicating that session attendance contributed to lower stress levels among teachers. Moreover, a higher aggregate health score was recorded for teachers who integrated three or more nutrition lessons compared to their counterparts. The student demographic, comprising both intervention and control schools, showcased a balanced representation concerning age, gender, and grade level.
The baseline knowledge levels didn’t exhibit significant discrepancies between the students of intervention and control schools. However, a commendable uptick in scores was observed among students of the intervention cohort who were recipients of nutrition education from session-attending teachers. Notably, students exposed to three or more nutrition lessons reflected a 10% enhancement in their scores compared to those receiving two or fewer lessons.
The observations evinced the practicability and sustainability of a short-term professional development module aimed at fostering teacher health while concurrently advancing nutrition education. It’s imperative to highlight that although the rise in healthful eating awareness is promising, it doesn’t necessarily translate to a behavioural modification. A holistic approach to enhancing student health necessitates a foundational support structure for teacher health, underscoring the necessity of workplace professional development.
Empowering teachers with a robust knowledge repository, a wealth of resources, and adeptness in managing their health not only transforms them into educational conduits but also as potent change agents in the classroom. By co-opting teachers as collaborative partners in the quest to curb childhood obesity, a more structured pathway towards attaining health equity is envisioned. The study, in essence, reinforces the potential of a professional development framework as a viable stratagem in advancing teacher well-being and fortifying the bulwark against childhood obesity.Read More
Luton Council takes action against childhood obesity by banning unhealthy food ads on municipal property
Luton Council has made a significant decision to combat the growing concern of childhood obesity in the town by implementing a ban on advertising for unhealthy food items on most of its council-owned property. As part of this determined initiative, advertisements featuring food products high in fat, salt, and sugar will no longer be permitted to be displayed on billboards, lampposts, screens, or roundabouts within the town’s jurisdiction.
This move, according to the council, aims to “protect children and adults” from the influence of marketing that promotes unhealthy eating habits. The situation has become particularly alarming in Luton, where childhood obesity rates have exceeded national levels. The latest figures from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) revealed that 11.4% of reception age children in Luton (ages four to five) were classified as having obesity, compared to the national rate of 10.1%. Similarly, obesity among children aged 10 to 11 (Year 6) in Luton stood at 29.2%, noticeably higher than the national rate of 23.4%.
Labour councillor Khtija Malik, who holds the portfolio for public health, declared the ban as a “start” in the town’s efforts to decrease its “high rates of obesity among young children.” Ms. Malik stressed the importance of fostering healthy eating habits early in life, acknowledging the considerable impact advertising has on shaping people’s food choices.
This ban, although extensive, will not encompass all advertising locations within the town. Unhealthy food adverts may continue to be seen on bus shelters until at least 2027, as the council’s current advertising contract for these spaces extends to that year. However, Ms. Malik reassured that the council, having “control of our assets,” would exercise control over “what is advertised” in areas under its jurisdiction.
The move by Luton Council has not only demonstrated a proactive approach to a pressing public health issue but has also been met with support from advocacy groups. Fran Bernhardt, the children’s food campaign coordinator at Sustain, a group dedicated to better food and farming, lauded the council’s efforts, stating, “Luton Council has stood up to the food and drinks industry on behalf of all their residents.” She further emphasised the importance of the decision, pointing out that those residing in the most deprived areas are the ones most affected by unhealthy food advertising and are consequently most at risk from diet-related diseases.
The decision by Luton Council signifies an important step in recognising and addressing the complex factors that contribute to childhood obesity. By limiting the exposure to advertising that encourages unhealthy food choices, the council is actively working to create an environment that supports healthier lifestyle decisions. This ban is a notable example of local governance taking decisive action to influence public behaviour and health, reflecting a growing awareness of the pivotal role advertising plays in shaping dietary habits and preferences. It serves as a landmark measure that could potentially inspire similar initiatives in other towns and cities, contributing to a broader societal shift towards prioritising public health.Read More
Leading scientists are urging the government to establish standard portion sizes for young children as part of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic. In a damning report, government scientific advisers have revealed that young children are consuming excessive amounts of salt and sugar while falling short on fruit, fibre, and vegetable intake.
Official data indicates that one in ten reception-age children in the UK now has obesity, with experts projecting that the obesity crisis will cost the NHS £10 billion annually by 2050. The report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) highlights the absence of formal guidance on appropriate portion sizes for young children and emphasises the need for policymakers to address this issue. Oversized servings are contributing to the rapid consumption of excessive calories.
According to the report’s authors, the current diet of young children in the UK fails to meet the recommended dietary guidelines for several nutrients. They note that larger portion sizes of snacks and meals provided in preschool settings are associated with higher food and energy intake in the short term. To address these concerns, the authors recommend that the government consider developing age-appropriate portion sizes for food and beverages, including vegetables, fruit, fruit juice, and milk, targeting children aged 1 to 5 years.
The SACN, known for its advocacy of the forthcoming ban on fast-food advertising before 9 pm from 2025 and the fortification of bread with folic acid, has identified excessive sugar consumption as a widespread issue, leading to dental problems that pose long-term health risks for individuals and place a persistent burden on the NHS.
The report reveals that nutritional imbalances are prevalent in the average diet, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds experiencing even worse dietary quality. Commissioned by the Department for Health and Social Care, the report provides the first update on recommended food and beverage consumption for children aged one to five in nearly two decades. Based on a comprehensive review of two decades of studies and data, the panel of nutrition experts and paediatricians who form the SACN made several recommendations, highlighting the urgency of addressing the “high prevalence” of overweight and obesity in children in the UK.
Official figures indicate that approximately 3% of reception-age children have severe obesity, and one in ten children at this age meet the threshold for obesity.
The report authors also suggest that repeated exposure to initially disliked vegetables can help children develop a preference for them. They recommend that parents persistently offer the vegetable to their child eight to ten times to increase acceptance.
Additional recommendations from the report include avoiding fizzy drinks for children under the age of five, consuming unsweetened yoghurt products, and making milk and water the primary beverage choices. Semi-skimmed cow’s milk is acceptable, but fully skimmed milk should be avoided until age 5.
Bridget Benelam, a Nutrition Scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, highlighted the report’s findings, stating that the diets of 1-5-year-olds were inadequate, characterised by excessive sugar, salt, and unhealthy energy-dense foods, and insufficient fibre, fruit, and vegetables.
The report also emphasises the importance of early childhood nutrition, not only for growth and development but also for establishing healthy habits that will benefit children later in life.
The report suggests several strategies for the government to consider, including promoting continued breastfeeding into the second year of life, ensuring children receive daily vitamin D and A supplements, and providing adequate vitamins and minerals for vegan families who may lack these nutrients commonly found in animal products.
A government spokesperson acknowledged that the report’s recommendations are being noted and considered. They highlighted the Start for Life resources, which provide expert NHS advice, helpful videos, and simple recipe ideas to support families in providing healthy meals for babies and young children.Read More
In a determined effort to address the growing obesity problem, Wales is set to implement strict measures aimed at curbing the promotion and accessibility of unhealthy meal deals and temporary price reductions on foods high in fat, sugar, or salt. With almost two-thirds of adults in Wales classified as having either overweight or obesity, the Labour-led government intends to go beyond the initiatives taken in England by enacting legislation to tackle the promotion of ultra-processed foods.
The Welsh government plans to mirror the UK government’s approach in England to restrict volume promotions, such as buy one get one free deals. Additionally, Wales will introduce proposals targeting meal deals and temporary price reductions, acknowledging the urgency of the crisis and the need for more comprehensive actions.
Lynne Neagle, the Welsh Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, emphasised the pressing nature of the situation, stating, “Rising levels of obesity are causing a significant burden of preventable illness in Wales. We must act immediately.” Neagle clarified that the government does not intend to ban meal deals altogether but aims to shift the focus towards healthier, more nutritionally balanced options. Many meal deals currently include large bags of crisps and snacks that are high in fat and sugar. The objective is to ensure that affordable meal deals are available, which are lower in calories, fat, and sugar.
Research conducted by Public Health Wales revealed that three-quarters of lunchtime meal deals exceed recommended calorie and salt levels for a meal. The unhealthiest lunch options provide two-thirds of the daily calorie intake, over 122% of the daily fat intake, 149% of the recommended sugar intake, and 112% of the daily salt intake. The majority of dinnertime meal combinations exceed average energy requirements.
The researchers concluded that if an individual purchased an average meal deal for lunch five days a week, they could gain more than 6 pounds (2.8 kg) in a year. If they opted for a high-calorie meal deal five days a week, the weight gain could reach 47 pounds (21 kg) within a year.
Neagle clarified that temporary price reductions would not be banned either, stating, “Our aim is to rebalance our food environments so that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice.”
The UK government recently delayed the planned ban on buy one get one free deals for junk food by two years, citing concerns over the cost of living crisis. However, the Welsh government is committed to implementing its restrictions by 2025 and intends to proceed even if the UK government does not follow suit.
Neagle expressed hope for alignment across the UK, stating, “It would be great if England moved forward with these plans. We believe that consistency throughout the UK is beneficial, but we have a responsibility to address the crisis we are currently facing in Wales.”
Neagle dismissed the notion that these measures amount to a “nanny state” intervention, highlighting that tackling obesity extends beyond individual responsibility and encompasses the unhealthy food environment people are exposed to on a daily basis.
The regulations will apply to major food retailers, and the government will also explore measures to curb the purchase of unhealthy food online and offers associated with loyalty cards.
According to the Welsh government, 62% of individuals aged 16 and over in Wales either have overweight or obesity.
James Evans, the Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, stressed the need for clear assurances from the Welsh Labour government that meal deals will not be banned and that any new regulations will not increase the average weekly cost for shoppers.Read More
UK government officials are contemplating offering weight-loss injections to children with obesity as young as 12 in an effort to combat the escalating childhood obesity problem in the country.
Specialists are currently evaluating if semaglutide injections, a weight-loss medication recently sanctioned for adult use by the NHS, could be beneficial for children with obesity aged between 12 and 17. Health authorities are now encouraging the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to consider providing these injections to teenagers struggling with obesity.
The final decision, expected to be announced in early 2024, is being supported by experts who argue that the medication could prevent more children from needing invasive weight-loss procedures. However, this suggestion has sparked controversy, with some arguing it could lead to an over-medicalisation of children.
Those opposed to the idea of weight loss injections for children raise several concerns. They fear the potential interference of these drugs with the physical and mental growth and development of children. They also highlight the lack of evidence regarding the long-term effects of such treatments on children’s health.
Critics further argue that such injections might encourage an unhealthy emphasis on weight and physical appearance, potentially leading to body image issues and disordered eating. The potential for serious side effects from weight loss injections is another concern. Additionally, they worry about the psychological message these injections could send, implying that a child’s body is unacceptable as it is.
Professor Keith Godfrey, from the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, warns that providing weight-loss injections to children might lead to the unnecessary medicalisation of an entire generation.
Charlotte Summers from Gro Health, a company offering health and wellbeing programs for adults, children, and young people, advocates for a more holistic approach: “By promoting healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and a positive relationship with food, we can enable our children to attain and maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives. This comprehensive strategy not only contributes to physical wellbeing, but also lays a solid foundation for emotional and mental health. We must collaborate to support our children in adopting a balanced and wholesome lifestyle for a healthier, brighter future.”Read More
A new report by the World Obesity Federation predicts that more than half of the global population will have overweight or obesity by 2035. The report estimates that by 2035, 2.7 billion adults worldwide will have overweight, and 1.1 billion will have obesity.
The report points out that having overweight or obesity is a significant risk factor for many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. The cost of treating these diseases puts a significant burden on healthcare systems worldwide, with the federation estimating it will cost more than $4 trillion annually by 2035, or 3% of global GDP.
The report warns that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem by limiting access to healthy food and exercise opportunities, increasing stress and anxiety, and disrupting healthcare services. People who have overweight or obesity are also more likely to experience severe symptoms or complications from COVID-19.
The report calls for urgent action to address the growing obesity crisis, including measures to promote healthy eating, physical activity, and access to healthcare. It also calls for better regulation of the food industry to ensure that healthy options are available and affordable to all.
The authors of the report note that the obesity crisis is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted response from governments, healthcare providers, and individuals. They stress the importance of a coordinated and sustained effort to prevent and treat obesity, which they believe is essential for the health and well-being of individuals and societies worldwide.
The authors of the report have said they are not blaming individuals, but instead calling for a focus on the societal, environmental, and biological factors involved in the conditions. The report’s findings will be presented to United Nations policymakers and member states next week.Read More
New global estimates indicate that more than a billion people worldwide will have obesity by 2030, which is twice the number recorded in 2010. Unfortunately, no country is on track to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal of halting obesity by 2025, and the number of people affected is predicted to rise drastically over the next eight years. Specifically, the number of people with obesity is expected to triple in low-income countries compared to 2010. The figures are from the fourth World Obesity Atlas, which was published by the World Obesity Federation.
The rise in obesity has been fastest in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates of obesity are found in North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and the numbers of people with obesity in Africa are expected to triple, with more women affected than men. The report also states that obesity was a major contributor to Covid-19 deaths. Almost a quarter (22%) of preventable deaths from non-communicable diseases in Africa are attributed to being from overweight.
Dr. Adelheid Onyango, from the WHO’s regional office for Africa, noted that undernutrition remains a significant problem across the continent, but the growing problem of obesity cannot be ignored. The region has weak policies and regulatory systems concerning processed, high-fat, and sugary foods, which contributes to the problem of obesity.
The World Obesity Atlas also ranked countries in terms of their preparedness for obesity, including their health systems. High-income countries are the most prepared, while lower middle- and low-income countries are the least prepared, increasing concerns about the impact of obesity on already vulnerable populations.
More than 150 health experts and advocates have written to health ministers calling for an international action plan to tackle obesity. The World Obesity Federation’s chief executive, Johanna Ralston, said political and health leaders must recognise the severity of the situation and take decisive and people-centred action to address the issue.Read More
The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe has released a report warning that obesity rates in the European Region have reached “epidemic proportions.”
The report states that the number of adults and children who have overweight or obesity is increasing, with 59% of adults and nearly one in three children affected. The report also highlights that no country in the European region is currently on track to halt the rise of obesity by 2025. Early studies from some countries showed that the prevalence of having overweight or obesity increased in children and teenagers during the pandemic.
The report highlights meal delivery apps as a potential contributor to the obesity problem, as they may encourage sedentary behaviour. The use of these apps was accelerated during the pandemic when people were advised to stay at home. The report recommends policies to ensure that restaurants that are required to display nutrition information also do so on apps. It also suggests that, where applicable, meal delivery companies be classified as food businesses to be held accountable in the same way.
The report finds that obesity and overweight are responsible for more than 1.2 million deaths across the region each year. Kremlin Wickramsinghe, ad interim head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, called for the attention of the highest level of governments during a briefing, highlighting that obesity is linked to at least 13 different types of cancer and is likely directly causing at least 200,000 new cancer cases every year in the region. In some countries, the report predicts that obesity will overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for preventable cancer in the decades ahead.
The WHO report warns that if action is not taken to address the issue, the burden of obesity-related illnesses and the associated healthcare costs will continue to rise, placing significant strain on healthcare systems and national budgets.Read More
Published in NPR, “Scant Obesity Training in Medical School Leaves Doctors Ill-Prepared to Help Patients” highlights the lack of obesity education in medical schools, leaving doctors unprepared to help patients with obesity. According to the article, only about 25% of U.S. medical schools require a course on nutrition and only about half require a course on obesity. The article argues that this lack of training leads to missed opportunities for doctors to help patients manage their weight and can result in patients not receiving the care they need. It also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the need for medical professionals to be equipped to address obesity, as people with obesity are at higher risk for severe illness from the virus.Read More
Published in The Guardian, “Higher obesity levels linked to lower productivity in England, research shows” discusses the findings of a new study that shows a correlation between obesity levels and lower productivity in England. The study found that people with obesity tend to miss more work days due to health issues and are less productive when they are at work, leading to a loss of economic output for the country. The article notes that the findings of the study have implications for both employers and policymakers, as addressing obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles could lead to improved health and increased productivity for the workforce. The article also highlights the need for comprehensive programs and policies aimed at reducing obesity levels and improving overall health in England.Read More
An article published in New Scientist titled “Taxing sugary drinks may not cut obesity as much as headlines claim” examines the impact of taxing sugary drinks on obesity rates. The article cites studies that have shown that taxing sugary drinks has had limited success in reducing obesity rates, as consumers often turn to other sources of added sugar, such as snacks and desserts. The article notes that while taxing sugary drinks may be a step in the right direction, it is not a silver bullet solution to the obesity epidemic, suggesting instead that a comprehensive approach to reducing obesity is needed, including changes in government policies, increased access to healthy food, and increased physical activity. It concludes by stating that while taxing sugary drinks may have some impact on reducing obesity, it is not a complete solution, and additional efforts are needed to address the issue.Read More
A study published in the journal PLOS Medicine is the first to examine whether pictorial health warnings on sugary drinks, like juice and fizzy drinks, influence whether or not parents purchase these types of beverages for their children.
The study’s results found that these warnings reduced parental purchases of sugary drinks for their children by 17%.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health ran the study in a unique laboratory by creating the “UNC Mini Mart”. This space was set up to mimic a convenience store and simulate a realistic setting for a shopping experience.
“We created this store because we saw a major need for research that tests the impact of policies in a food store setting that is much more realistic,” said senior author Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Gillings School and a member of UNC’s Carolina Population Center (CPC). “When people make choices about what food to buy, they are juggling dozens of factors like taste, cost, and advertising and are looking at many products at once. Showing that warnings can cut through the noise of everything else that’s happening in a food store is powerful evidence that they would help reduce sugary drink purchases in the real world.”
Taillie’s and her co-authors’ positive findings about the effects of image-based warning labels highlight a recent approach to combating the global struggle with obesity. Children in the United States and many other countries, including the UK, consume more than the recommended amount of sugary drinks, which increases their risk for obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes.
Taillie has conducted research on warning labels and taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and junk food in Chile, Mexico and South Africa. Marissa G. Hall, PhD, one of the study’s co-authors, researches the impact of warnings on tobacco and food as well as effectiveness of obesity prevention policies.
In their study, 326 parents of children between the ages of 2 to 12 years old participated in a randomised trial with 1) a pictorial warning arm (in which drink labels had images representing heart damage and Type 2 diabetes), and 2) a control arm (in which drinks labels displayed a barcode).
Participants were instructed to choose one drink and one snack for their child, along with one household good, the latter being added to the shopping list to potentially mask the purpose of the study. After shopping, participants completed a survey about their selections and left with their drink of choice and a cash incentive.
The picture warnings led to a 17% reduction in purchases of sugary drinks, with 45% of parents in the control arm buying a sugary drink for their child compared to 28% in the pictorial warning arm.
The warnings also reduced calories purchased from sugary drinks and led to parents feeling more in control of healthy eating decisions and thinking more about the harms of sugary drinks.
“We think the paper could be useful for policymakers in the U.S. and globally,” Hall says. “This evidence supports strong, front-of-package warnings to reduce sugary drink consumption in children.”Read More
The Irish government has stepped up its plans to tackle the nation’s growing obesity crisis through the establishment of a task force that will look at the ways saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories can be reduced in processed food that is prevalent in Ireland.
Along with the task force a ‘Roadmap for Food and Product Reformation in Ireland’ was also published by the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the Minister of State for Public Health Frank Feighan.
Mr Donnelly highlighted the links between diet and non-communicable diseases and noted that it was “particularly evident in economically disadvantaged areas, where people tend to eat more processed food”. He also suggested that the new task force would work with the food industry “to combat inequality by improving the quality of the food available”.
Mr Feighan suggested that modern lifestyles were having a negative impact of people’s health and said that people were “living very busy lives and it’s not always easy, even with the best of intentions, to eat or buy the healthiest option”. He then suggested that the task force and road map were “important and positive steps forward for all of our health and wellbeing and will help to improve the nutritional quality of the processed food available to consumers and will have tangible benefits for public health”.
The Food Reformulation Task Force will sit within the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and will provide “a dedicated resource to work with all levels of industry to ensure progress and to address the difficulties that may arise in the highly technical process of reformulation”. FSAI chief executive Dr Pamela Byrne said the reformulation of foods has been proven to have a “positive impact on the quality of the diet and reducing salt, sugar and saturated fats in food products will positively contribute to a healthier population”. She said the FSAI would be engaging “with the food industry and other stakeholder” over the next four years.
The move comes as more retailers and producers move to make their products less harmful.Read More