The UK’s coalition government has outlined its desire for a “responsibility deal” with the food industry in a bid to tackle obesity and make the nation healthier.

In a policy document unveiled yesterday afternoon (30 November) by UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition set out its plan to ask all of society to help to improve public health.

The Healthy Lives, Healthy People White Paper outlined plans to work “collaboratively” with business through a “public health responsibility deal”.

It said the deal would be run through five “networks” between government, business and the voluntary sector that would focus on food, alcohol, physical activity, health at work and behaviour change.

The deal will be formally launched early next year and is set to announce agreements on the further reformulation of salt in food and “better information” for consumers on food.

The deal will also develop the Change4Life campaign and the White Paper cited the “Great Swapathon”, which will provide GBP250m of vouchers “to make healthy lifestyle choices easier”.

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Another key part of the proposal is to give “more power” to local government officials to decide how to spend public money on health projects.

The White Paper said the coalition plans to set up Public Health England to support the local development of public-health policy and also co-ordinate action on national issues like flu pandemics. The new body covers public-health policy in England only as, under the UK’s devolution settlement, health policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is determined by the devolved national governments.

“The dilemma for government is this: it is simply not possible to promote healthier lifestyles through Whitehall diktat and nannying about the way people should live,” Lansley said. “Recent years have proved that one-size-fits-all solutions are no good when public health challenges vary from one neighbourhood to the next.”

However, Lansley added: “But we cannot sit back while, in spite of all this, so many people are suffering such severe lifestyle-driven ill health and such acute health inequalities.

“The result of all this will be a much more innovative, integrated and dynamic approach to improving public health. Under our plans, local innovation will replace central control. People and communities will drive directly the change we need to build a stronger, healthier Britain.”