Blog: Hannah AbdullaObesity in the spotlight at London conference

Hannah Abdulla | 12 February 2014

Obesity and deprivation are linked. Between 2006 and 2011, the UK's National Obesity Observatory (NOO) carried out a study that compared obesity to the highest level of education. The prevalance of obesity in men with no qualifications was at 30.3% compared with to 20.5% of men with a degree, NVQ 4/5 or equivalent. In women the difference was 33.2% versus 18% respectively.

It's no different within children; the rate of obesity in the most deprived 10% of the population is approximately twice that of the least deprived, according to NOO data on last year.

A group of experts discussing the issue at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum in London today (12 February) said the problem started with children and the solution needed to start there, too.

Tesco recently launched a farm-to-fork education programme in conjunction with Diabetes UK, the Children's Food Trust and the National Farmers Union, which sees kids go on educational trails in factories, farms and supermarkets for practical demonstrations on food production in a bid to get them to make healthier food choices.

The UK government is also making healthy eating a core part of the curriculum and is implementing a scheme that offers a free school meal for infants. The steps are being taken in the hope children will learn what a healthy, balanced meal is and will better their eating habits as they grow older.

But children aren't actually the ones doing the buying in the supermarkets. So while it's great they're getting one balanced meal in the day and an education that might help them later down the line, the problem will not simply be solved by targeting kids.

So why are less affluent communities picking the worst foods? Well, quite simply - because they're cheap.  

Cathy Capelin, strategic insight director for nutrition at Kantar Worldpanel, highlighted that, in the UK, 37% of the saturated fats and 32% of the sugars people buy in products to eat at home have been in lines sold in some form of promotion.

Such statistics are used to criticise the industry, which faces claims they are putting sales ahead of the population's health.

There have been calls from campaigners for taxes to be levied on foods that are in high in sugar. Mexico is a country that has looked to bring in a sugar tax and NGOs around the world are watching with interest.

A softer approach has been taken in the UK with the Department of Health working with local authorities to address the issue of through negotiating consistent front-of-pack labelling so consumers can make "informed decisions". 

But with obesity currently costing the NHS more than GBP5bn a year, is it time more forceful approaches were taken?

Could the UK be the next to witness the imposition of sugar taxes in a bid to make the nation healthier?

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