Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Party manifestoes, part 2: A war on junk food?

Guest post by Avril Rhodes

The Fuse blog has seen pieces on the marketing of junk food near supermarket checkouts in recent weeks. Interestingly, whilst all the political Parties profess many policies related to children and young people, this is a specific topic where they are silent. Perhaps it’s too micro an issue or maybe involves dealing with too many big business interests. Who knows? However, I wouldn’t wish to be called cynical and neither would our potential political masters, who are working hard on the junk food agenda…to varying degrees.

Conservatives will:
  • Act to reduce childhood obesity (how?) 
  • Continue to promote clear food information (not all that clear an aim, on reflection) 
  • Introduce a national evidence based diabetes prevention programme (sounds interesting) 
  • Invest more in primary care to prevent health problems (needs more detail)
Labour will:
  • Set a new national ambition to improve the uptake of physical activity (and this means…?) 
  • Set maximum permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods marketed substantially to children (assuming we know what these foods are, and can get over the qualifier “substantially” without disappearing in a legislative quagmire, this, could, in the end improve the offer at the proverbial check out)
Liberal Democrats will:
  • Restrict marketing of junk food to children, including restricting advertising before 9.00pm, and maintain the ‘5 A DAY’ policy (more specific, but perhaps would have the unintended consequence of driving the advertising onto the internet, and what about the argument that the 9.00pm watershed is an anachronism in light of current TV viewing technology?)
  • Encourage traffic light labelling of food and publication of information on calorie, fat, sugar and salt content in restaurants and takeaways (and would this be better than dealing with the check-out offer? Or are people going out already committed to a more unhealthy option in the interests of convenience?)
Greens will:
  • Extend VAT at the standard rate to less healthy foods, including sugar, and spend the money raised on subsidising a third of the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables. This, it is stated, could prevent 5,000 premature deaths a year. (A bold one this. Could the money raised be tracked to ensure this happened? What about ensuring the quality of the subsidised produce? Who provided the calculations on lives saved?)
Before you despair and think that there are more questions than answers, there is some good news here. All the parties (well except perhaps UKIP, who don’t discuss junk food, though are loud on backing British farming and fishing) have got the message that action needs to be taken about what our food contains. This should encourage the world of public health research. 

All views expressed are exclusively those of the author.

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