Jimm Begg, director general of industry association Dairy UK, said Wednesday that he was pleased that the government had recognized the food industry's role in fighting obesity and that the focus could have mutual benefits for all involved. The claims followed this week's announcement by the country's government that £372m has been earmarked to fund a new strategy to battle obesity through education, encouraging physical activity and new labelling requirements. Begg said that he was encouraged by the government's latest stance to combat the plight faced to consumers by poor diet, and that despite occasional high fat content, dairy products had an important role in the focus. "The dairy industry been working for years to raise consumer understanding of its products, improve nutritional information and provide a choice of products with various fat contents," he stated. "Scientists have shown repeatedly that dairy products can play a vital role in reducing weight as part of a calorie-controlled diet." Begg claimed that high levels of nutrients like calcium, phosphorous, protein, fat-soluble vitamins and B vitamins were vitally important to a healthy diet. "That's why the dairy industry sees itself as an important part of the solution to global obesity, and will continue to work closely with the government in developing a strategy to combat it," he added. The government proposals have also called for the adoption of one simple and consistent nutritional labelling scheme for all foods. The labelling proposal forms part of a Healthy Food Code of Practice, which will be developed in partnership with the food industry. This code will lay down a challenge to industry (not just food manufacturers, but also restaurants and other food outlets) to support individuals and families reduce consumption of saturated fat, sugar and salt. Professor J T Winkler, director of the Nutrition Policy Unit at London Metropolitan University, was unimpressed by the labeling plan, however. "It is a feeble Whitehall fantasy to claim that better labelling is key to curing Britain's obesity problems," he said. "Most people do not read food labels, most who read them do not understand them, most who understand them do not act on them, most who act on them do not do so consistently." He said that to government's mindset of trying to change people's food choices is "puritanical". It would be better, in his view, to improve the nutritional quality of the foods people already eat. Beyond promoting healthier food choices, the strategy has four other prongs to it and takes an integrated approach to tackling the obesity problem in the UK by reaching out to society at large. These are:
Healthy growth and development of children. This includes investing in schools to up physical education activity and cooking lessons; and earmarking £75m for a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging parents to change their children's diets and increase their activity levels.
Physical activity Projects include investing in town infrastructure to promote physical activity, and working with the entertainment industry to develop tools for parents to better manage the time children spend doing sedentary activities.
Incentives for better health The incentives will be aimed at individuals, employers and the National Health Service (NHS), and will include personal financial incentives.