U.K. Health Secretary John Reid said food companies must help curb obesity to avoid regulation, after a parliamentary panel said they should get three years to end practices such as targeting advertising at children.
U.K. Health Secretary John Reid said food companies must help curb obesity to avoid regulation, after a parliamentary panel said they should get three years to end practices such as targeting advertising at children. Tesco Plc, Britain’s largest grocery chain, said it will test color-coding of its own food brands according to fat, salt and sugar starting in September. The House of Commons’ health committee earlier called for legislation requiring that foods be labeled red, amber or green based on calories and nutrients. “We would prefer to do this by voluntary participation,” Reid said on British Broadcasting Corp. radio. “But if, like tobacco companies, there is a complete negligence in terms of responding to what we think is in the general public interest, then we will have to consider using other methods.” Obesity has surged almost fivefold in the past 25 years in England, and three-quarters of the adult population are either overweight or obese, the government says. The burden to the economy, in medical costs and lost earnings from sickness, is estimated at as much as 7.4 billion pounds ($13 billion) a year, or almost half the U.K. budget for transport. Obese Children “Amputees will become much more familiar in the streets of Britain” and more people may be blinded by diseases linked to obesity if current trends persist, the Commons panel said. By 2020, half of all children will be obese, according to the report, “the first generation where children die before their parents.” Sheila McKenzie, a consultant at the Royal London Hospital, which has an 11-month waiting list for treating children with obesity, told the panel that she had witnessed a three-year-old child with extreme obesity dying from heart failure. “We feel strongly that the problem of obesity needs to be recognized and tackled at the highest levels,” the lawmakers said. David Hinchliffe, the panel chairman and a member of the ruling Labour Party, said it was “unacceptable” that U.K. ministers endorsed initiatives to supply schools with sporting equipment or books that required children to buy foods made by Cadbury Schweppes Plc and Walkers, a U.K. unit of PepsiCo Inc. Walkers’ ad campaign for its “Wotsits” cheese-flavored corn puffs “explicitly sought to undermine parental control” by encouraging children to clamor for the snacks, and its approval by the Advertising Standards Authority showed the ineffectiveness of self-regulation, the panel said. PepsiCo declined to comment. The British Retail Consortium, an industry group, said it was “very disappointed’ by the suggestion that a law was needed to introduce traffic-light labeling of foods. “There are no good or bad foods, only good and bad diets,” Director-General Kevin Hawkins said in an e-mailed statement. The Consumers’ Association, Britain’s largest consumer group, backs mandatory labeling. Red Means Think Tesco, which last year earned 1.7 billion pounds before tax on sales of 33.6 billion pounds, said research showed customers want simple labels that tell them which foods are healthy. ” They saw a green label as a food they can eat lots of, amber means the product is OK and red as a food they need to think about,” Tesco Director Tim Mason said in a statement. Physical exercise should be increased in schools, the Commons committee said. The average person now walks 189 miles (300 kilometers) a year, down from 255 miles 20 years ago, and cycling has fallen by more than 80 percent in the past 50 years, the report said. Half of children fall short of the government target of two hours’ physical activity a week. Exercise alone couldn’t solve the obesity problem, Labour lawmaker John Austin said at a press conference. An hour of moderate walking is needed to use up the 294 calories in a Mars bar; it takes more than an hour of strenuous exercise to burn off a 492-calorie Big Mac hamburger. “It’s simply not possible to do enough exercise to burn off excess calories,” Austin said. “Unless we address the issue of too many calories, there’s not enough time in the day.” (Source: Bloomberg Health News, May 2004)