The Chairman and CEO of Nestlé UK & Ireland, Fiona Kendrick, has written in this week’s The Grocer magazine about the scale of the public health challenge faced by the UK and Nestlé’s view on what is needed in the future to address it.
Here we reproduce Fiona’s essay for Nestlé.co.uk readers:
Is there a role for regulation to tackle obesity?
Today, obesity affects the health of millions of people in the UK. The concerning trends in childhood obesity make it inevitable that this burden will increase. The social and economic costs of obesity in the UK are simply not sustainable.
Reducing obesity is therefore, rightly, a strategic priority for UK government, and the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is also a priority for Nestlé in keeping with our purpose, which is to enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future.
The Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan creates a watershed in public health policy for the food industry. It includes regulation for the first time, through the introduction of the sugar levy on soft drinks, alongside voluntary measures.
The voluntary sugar reduction programme, which we fully support, is a core element of the Plan. It is ambitious and challenging, but we are already working towards the 20% sugar reduction by 2020.
The Plan is ‘the start of a conversation’. I believe we should also look ahead and start to explore further the potential role of regulation in future health policy.
In recent years, health policy has focused primarily on voluntary action under the Public Health Responsibility Deal. Nestlé UK was one of its leading supporters and signed up to all its relevant food pledges. The Responsibility Deal demonstrated the substantial progress that voluntary measures can and will continue to achieve.
However, a growing divide has developed between advocates of a voluntary approach and advocates of regulation.
At the risk of oversimplifying a complex debate, the food and drink manufacturing industry has favoured a voluntary approach; while health organisations have generally argued that voluntary measures alone are insufficient, and that regulation is also required.
Critics of the voluntary approach have pointed to its limited take-up across the industry, and this perspective is understandable. For action by industry to match the scale of the public health challenge, the entire UK food and drink industry needs to act, including the out-of-home sector, for example.
From an industry perspective, an unintended consequence of voluntarism is that it creates an un-level playing field. Companies that voluntarily invest to reformulate their products are disadvantaged compared to those that take time to act, or take only limited action.
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. A purely voluntary approach acts as a disincentive to this investment and collaboration.
So we believe it is important to recognise that voluntary action has limitations as well as strengths, and to acknowledge the case for regulation. Voluntary action and regulation both have important roles to play within an overall obesity strategy.
From Nestlé UK’s perspective, regulation should be based on four principles. First and foremost it should achieve public health objectives. Second, it should be evidence-based. Third, it should create a level playing field for the entire food industry. And fourth, it should incentivise investment in research & development, new technologies, and innovations that help tackle obesity.
We should take the Childhood Obesity Plan as a call to action. We believe it is time to start exploring a wider range of potential measures to reduce obesity, including regulation. We plan to work with independent experts, academics, and health organisations to help develop policy solutions for the future.
The essay can be found on The Grocer website here:
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