Why public health policy needs to refocus

Why public health policy needs to refocus

Amid the turmoil and political drama of recent months, there has been uncertainty about the future direction of public health policy. There have been big changes in the UK government’s efforts to help people lead healthier lives, none more so than with the ‘anti-obesity’ program and the long-promised restrictions on rich foods and drinks fat, salt or sugar. (HFSS). Plans were delayed due to the cost of living crisis, then the restrictions were going to be lifted, and now it’s unclear what direction the new direction will take.

Given the current economic situation, it is understandable that the government’s direction on healthier lifestyles is not yet clear, but that needs to change. Improving the nation’s health is not only a societal priority, but will help reduce longer-term economic pressures. Today, nearly two-thirds of adults in England are overweight, with costs from lost productivity and increased social care estimated at £7.5billion.

This is why the new statesman and Suntory Beverage and Food GB&I (SBF GB&I) – the makers of Lucozade, Ribena and Orangina – recently convened a panel of parliamentarians, industry experts, academics and health activists to discuss how which we can work together to encourage healthier diets and active lifestyles.

Healthier diets

Much of the debate has centered on how to provide reformulation, innovation and choice to consumers. SBF GB&I began reformulating its beverages in 2013, long before HFSS or “sugar tax” restrictions were considered. Today, not all of its beverages are HFSS, meaning it has removed more than 98 billion calories and 25,000 tons of sugar from consumers’ diets, while matching or improving taste. The company has launched low-calorie and no-calorie alternatives for each brand, giving consumers choice, and has invested more than £13 million in its factory to build capacity to produce new low-calorie drinks and brands. sugar content.

This work aligns with SBF GB&I’s “Growing for Good” vision to positively impact the lives of its consumers. But it’s also aligned with the findings of McKinsey’s 2014 Comprehensive Report on Obesity, which found reformulation to be one of the most impactful interventions available.

Although the industry was making progress, there was a consensus that government policy over the past decade has not always provided the stable environment that would allow companies to invest the time and money needed for successful innovation and reformulation. As Nikki Pegg, Director of Research and Development at SBF GB&I commented: “It takes several months, even years, to develop a product and it becomes very tricky if the objectives change throughout this process, especially when we also balance the needs of retailers and our consumers.

The on/off approach of obesity programs has therefore created uncertainty and undermined trust, becoming a barrier to further progress. It has been noted that governments are sending mixed signals by seeking to encourage reformulation and innovation through policies, but failing to publicly support the tools necessary for such work, including sweeteners, which are thoroughly tested. and confirmed as safe by regulatory authorities around the world.

It was agreed that more could be done to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they often have neither the time nor the financial resources to reformulate. A participant referred to the Scottish Government’s Health Reformulation Scheme, which has been helping food SMEs to reformulate their products since 2019. If replicated by the UK Government, this scheme has the potential to improve diets and health across the country.

Finally, there is consensus that the industry needs clear objectives for reformulation. The introduction of the Nutrient Profiling Model (NPM) 2004/05, which categorizes foods and beverages that are HFSS, was welcomed as it gave the industry a clear focus and is now widely used. It was agreed that realistic and stable targets are needed to incentivize companies to invest time and resources in developing healthier product lines. Most believed that all UK countries should continue to use the current NPM, fearing that the divergence between devolved countries would create supply chain complexity and potential costs for consumers.

Promote sport and physical activity

Alongside discussions on diets, participants agreed that innovation from manufacturers must be accompanied by broader measures, such as promoting physical activity. Indeed, a recent YouGov poll released during the debate found that 69% of MPs think sport and physical activity are the most important ways to encourage healthier lifestyles.

It’s an approach already taken by SBF GB&I – a £30m investment in its ‘Made to Move’ campaign has enabled 1.5m people across the UK to do more activities over three years. Company representatives also discussed how they are harnessing the power of the Lucozade Sport brand, the world’s 15th most culturally relevant sports brand (Fan Intelligence Index, 2019), to help unlock potential, including growing the women’s football and being the longest in the London Marathon. at the service of the titular partner.

Participants reflected on levels of physical activity, which are lowest in the most disadvantaged communities. A call has been made for the government to identify and address the societal challenges and inequalities that currently limit people’s ability to be active.

Born Barikor, founder and CEO of community exercise organization Our Parks – which is sponsored by Lucozade Sport – stressed the importance of understanding exactly what it means to be ‘active’ or ‘inactive’, acknowledging the variation in definitions. He suggested that an easily understood universal system be introduced, similar to the “five a day” target for fruit and vegetables, and this was accepted.

Participants also discussed how physical activity is often treated as a mechanism to fight obesity, overlooking its overall role in good health and mental well-being. The need to recognize these alternative benefits was highlighted, with some participants calling for a refocus on “establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle”. This was presented as an alternative view that the government should take when addressing health policy.

At the end of the session, participants reiterated their calls for a shift in policy direction from “obesity” to “healthier lifestyles”, and the need to address the causes, not the consequences. . As Carol Robert, COO of SBF GB&I concluded, while there is no silver bullet to encouraging better health, “there is a real opportunity for business and government to think about the larger equation, which includes both diet and active lifestyles”. .

Roundtable participants included: Carol Robert, Chief Operating Officer, SBF GB&I; Nikki Pegg, Director of Research and Development, SBF GB&I; Born Barikor, CEO, Our Parks; Lord Bethell, former Minister for Innovation; Dr. Adam Briggs, Senior Policy Fellow, The Health Foundation; Tom Burton, Head of National Partnership (Health and Inequalities), Sport England; Kate Halliwell, Scientific Director, Food and Drink Federation; Dr. Dolly Theis, Visiting Researcher, CRM Epidemiology Unit

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