The UK government’s much-discussed anti-obesity strategy, unveiled today (23 January), looks set to bring to a head the long-running debate in the UK over food nutritional labelling.

As part of a wide-ranging multi-strand policy agenda, covering diet education, food labelling, physical activity and preventive health, the Government will set out proposals to develop “a single, simple and effective approach to food labelling”.

The food and drink industry is yet to be included in drafting the code but there is the suggestion that legislators have grown impatient with the divergent opinions among producers and retailers.

At present, there is a difference of opinion between retailers and producers over the merits of the “traffic lights” or GDA (guideline daily amounts) systems of nutritional labelling.

Speaking on the BBC, UK Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: “In this country we are probably ahead of the world in food labelling. The problem is there are three systems. We are saying we want to work with the industry and have an independent review by experts to see which of these three systems is the most effective. Then we hope that we can convince the industry to go for one system.”

The Government’s Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said that “clear and consistent food labelling” was among the key components needed to tackle the “obesity time bomb”.

As expected, the strategy stopped short of imposing a 9pm watershed on TV advertising of HFSS (high fat, salt or sugar) foods, called for by pressure groups.

However, the Government’s plans do include bringing forward the review by media regulator Ofcom of the restrictions governing the advertising of unhealthy foods to children. As anticipated, the strategy also includes measures to restrict the opening of fast-food outlets near schools or parks.

The Government has set aside GBP372m (US$725m) for the strategy. Johnson added: “It is not the Government’s role to hector or lecture people, but we do have a duty to support them in leading healthier lifestyles. This will only succeed if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed in every part of society.”