Confusion limiting benefits of health strategies: UK Commission

Posted by James Ferre on 2nd July 2009

Public health strategies with regard to food are failing to have their desired impact because inconsistent and confusing consumer information is blocking the facilitation of behaviour change, an independent UK Public Health Commission reported overnight.Chaired by Dave Lewis, Unilever UK & Ireland Chairman, the Commission was set up at the end of August 2008 by the UK’s Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. It is made up of experts drawn from business, the non-profit sector and academia who together have set out their recommendations for dealing with the UK’s rising tide of obesity and alcohol abuse in a wide-ranging review.

The Public Health Commission’s report We’re All In This Together, Improving the Long-Term Health of the Nation outlines the need for a greater level of clarity and consistency to help people make the right choices wherever they are, whatever they are doing.

Among the recommendations for guiding consumers toward healthier food and beverage decision-making are:

* Providing common and consistent nutritional information about the food people eat, whether they buy it in a supermarket or in an out-of-home setting such as a restaurant, bar or cafe
* Standardising the portion sizes on which nutritional information is based to ensure full comparability and relevance to how the products are consumed. Where practicable, this would be extended to out-of-home settings
* Replacing “the unit” as a measure for alcohol content with a “per centilitre” system. This will align the information consumers are given about the nutritional content of both their food and drink
* Using sales data of supermarkets, gyms and restaurants to evaluate in real-time whether Government campaigns are changing behaviour
* Extending restrictions on advertising food to children to cover all new and non-broadcast media
* Amending the tax system to support all forms of physical activity particularly for small businesses wanting to help their employees

“Every year, more than 80 000 people die prematurely from diet or alcohol related ill-health. It’s a fact which speaks for itself – quite clearly we have a serious challenge which needs to be urgently confronted,” Mr Lewis said. “People get lots of information about their health – at work, in schools, in their communities and through the media – but they’re not getting clear and consistent support and sufficiently motivating messages. Because the initiatives we have aren’t strategic, they don’t fit together and they aren’t working.”

“What’s missing is a holistic approach, one that has strategic intent, executional detail and wide ownership by those organisations and individuals with consumer-reach.”

Australia is taking a similar approach to the UK with an independent body (Preventative Health Taskforce) set-up to provide recommendations that will guide the health strategy of the Federal Government. The Taskforce was due to hand in their report on Tuesday, but it is not known when their suggestions will be made public.