The federal government has not too long ago introduced a technique geared toward decreasing weight problems within the UK. It’ll introduce a ban on unhealthy meals commercials on TV earlier than a sure hour, finish “purchase one, get one free” junk meals offers, and create extra complete calorie contents on meals and drinks.
The federal government has additionally launched the Higher Well being marketing campaign, to inspire obese and overweight individuals to shed some pounds. The programme provides instruments and help from NHS weight administration providers, together with a Higher Well being 12-week weight reduction plan app.
Whereas a number of the proposed methods are lengthy overdue – equivalent to bans on junk meals commercials – most of those initiatives nonetheless place emphasis on getting individuals to alter their consuming and life-style habits. Not solely does one of these technique ignore the various drivers of weight problems, such initiatives have additionally been confirmed ineffective again and again.
Particular person accountability
For many years now, well being promotion insurance policies concentrating on non-communicable ailments have centered on getting individuals to alter their existence. The rationale is that these ailments (equivalent to diabetes and coronary heart illness) are principally because of modifiable components – equivalent to poor weight loss plan, smoking, consuming alcohol and never transferring sufficient.
These campaigns purpose to present individuals the knowledge wanted to alter their behaviour. So-called “nudges” are additionally used to advertise life-style change. Examples embody higher visibility of wholesome meals in supermarkets and inspiring individuals to take the steps the place attainable.
4 causes the UK authorities’s weight problems technique might not work for everybody
Nonetheless, a rising physique of analysis exhibits all these well being insurance policies don’t work. It’s because such insurance policies place accountability on the particular person, ignoring the opposite drivers of weight problems. Social inequity, the affect of meals and beverage industries, and particular points of globalisation (together with commerce liberalisation) are all identified causes of weight problems.
Insurance policies centered on altering behaviour find yourself blaming individuals for components which are sometimes fully out of their management. What’s much more worrying within the present context is the federal government’s emphasis on weight problems as a cause for the UK’s variety of coronavirus deaths. Whereas there’s undoubtedly a hyperlink between weight problems and COVID-19, the federal government’s weight problems technique is successfully shifting the blame from the federal government’s response onto individuals dwelling with weight problems.
Well being policymakers more and more acknowledge that many components outdoors an individual’s management contribute to well being inequalities. Nonetheless, the well being insurance policies designed again and again nonetheless have a tendency to advertise life-style interventions as an answer.
Analysis exhibits that weight problems disproportionately impacts individuals from poorer backgrounds. But as a substitute of looking for to alter the causes of those inequalities, coverage responses proceed to advertise life-style adjustments, solely extra strongly focused at poorer populations. This stigmatises poorer inhabitants subgroups as a substitute of providing actual options. And it fails to bear in mind problems with entry and affordability of wholesome existence that folks from low-income communities usually face.
One cause the federal government continues to design insurance policies that place accountability on people is due to the rising involvement of foods and drinks producers in policymaking. It’s because the foods and drinks business remains to be thought of an essential companion within the struggle in opposition to diet-related ailments – regardless of apparent conflicts of curiosity.
The concept that everybody can work collectively in direction of a standard good, displays a governance type that turned in style during the last many years within the US and Europe. It promotes the creation of partnerships and the inclusion of business in any respect phases of policymaking. That is finished by means of influence assessments and consultations.
Blurring the boundaries between the non-public and public sector is problematic for public well being. Processed meals and smooth drink industries have an curiosity in maintaining well being promotion insurance policies centered on particular person behaviour. Doing so, they keep away from regulation and may shield their backside line. As well as, they will have interaction in company social accountability actions to advertise wholesome behaviours. This makes them look good, despite the fact that their merchandise are the reason for the issue.
Though promoting bans go in opposition to business curiosity, the business determinants of well being are far more deeply ingrained than the weight problems technique at the moment recognises. If governments proceed to embed business lobbying in well being promotion insurance policies, they’re prone to stay restricted to particular person accountability.
Significant change would require a rethinking of policymaking processes to prioritise public well being over non-public pursuits. It’ll additionally require extra express engagement with the financial and political drivers of weight problems when making future insurance policies.