By Stefano Agostini
The proposals that form the second part of the UK government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, announced today by Jeremy Hunt, demonstrate the ever growing concern that the obesity crisis presents to our society.
The food industry has been working with Government and health organisations for many years, largely on a voluntary basis, to reduce salt, sat fat and calories in products and help people make healthier choices. The Government’s target to halve childhood obesity by 2030 sets a new and welcome level of ambition.
For my part, I am proud that Nestle UK & Ireland has removed more than 60 billion calories and 2.6 billion teaspoons of sugar from its portfolio in the last three years alone and has much more reformulation and product development to come. It is our responsibility, one shared with all manufacturers, to provide answers and not simply wait for others to prescribe the solution.
We have argued for some time that voluntary action, while absolutely vital, has limitations as well as strengths. A broader range of measures should be considered to tackle obesity including regulation. We believe these measures should be developed on four principles. First and most importantly they should achieve public health objectives. Second, they should be evidence-based. Third, they should create a level playing field for the entire food industry. And fourth, they should incentivise investment in research & development, new technologies, and innovations that help tackle obesity.
There are new technologies that can help tackle obesity. However, they require long-term investment by industry, and collaboration between academia, industry and policy makers.
For example, our confectionery campus in York is home to our global centre for confectionery R&D. Earlier this year it unveiled a breakthrough innovation under our Milkybar brand creating a chocolate bar with 30% less sugar than similar chocolate products. This was achieved by using an exciting new technology that structures sugar differently. We continue to invest heavily in this type of research and development to produce healthier and tastier food and drink.
It is vital that new policies are developed that incentivise and support this kind of research and innovation. It is no less important that other policies do not have the unintended consequence of acting as a disincentive.
Many of the measures put forward today have been under consideration for some years. We will look forward to contributing to the consultations with these four principles as recommended criteria. However, we also believe that government, health experts and industry should work collaboratively to identify new policies that can enable us to achieve ambitious results together.