U.K. Government Quietly Disbands Advisory Group on Obesity Issues

The group recommended several public health programs to change the food environment, but the current government wants a nudge strategy

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The U.K. government has "quietly disbanded" its independent advisory group on obesity. Apparently, it didn't like the advice it was getting.

The firing is quite understandable. The group was appointed by the previous government as a result of recommendations in what is known as the Foresight report: Tackling Obesities: Future Choices. This report advised mapping out strategies for obesity interventions that went way beyond education about personal food choices.

The expert group followed this advice and recommended public health programs to change the food environment and counter food industry marketing.

The new government, however, prefers a "nudge" strategy. Derived from behavioral economics, "nudge" involves no compulsion (e.g., taxes on junk foods). Instead, people are free to follow advice to eat better but don't have to.

Thus, the government's Call to Action on Obesity in England focuses on individual responsibility and says nothing about the influence of food and drink marketing on food choices.

Two members of the expert committee, Goeffrey Rayner and Tim Lang, have publicly criticized "nudge" as "a smokescreen for inaction."

No wonder the group was fired.

But as Professor Lang explains:

The closure of the expert advisory group is bad news all round: bad politics, bad policy, and bad science. It shuts the door on an important attempt by the state to recognize the systemic nature of what drives obesity.... It's plain as a pikestaff that obesity requires systems change, not a tweak here and there, yet that is what is being offered.

Doing something about obesity requires eating less and eating better, both very bad for business. For this U.K. government, business interests trump those of public health.

Image: Andresr/Shutterstock.

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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