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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 22:37 GMT
Doctors prescribe shopping trips
Overweight man
Most British adults are overweight
People who visit their doctors because they are overweight are to be prescribed a fact-finding tour - of the nearest supermarket.

Sainsbury's has teamed up with the NHS to show patients which foods contain a lot of fat and persuade them to buy healthier alternatives.

Most British adults are overweight because they fail to see the importance of replacing pies and biscuits with fruit and vegetables, according to doctors.

But GPs will also prescribe weight-loss drugs to fight the fat epidemic.

The supermarket's nutritional expert Kate Arthur says dieticians will point patients towards low-fat versions of their favourite foods.

The marketing, the pricing, the location all make us a nation of fatties

Professor Tim Lang

For instance, the store's low-fat chicken korma ready-meal has just four grammes (0.14 ounces) of fat - but its full-fat counterpart contains 38 grammes (1.33 ounces).

The guided tour will also focus on cheaper products, including tinned fruit and frozen vegetables.

Obesity Forum chairman Dr Ian Campbell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme many of his patients desperately wanted to lose weight but found it "very difficult" to find healthy foods in shops.

And the NHS lacked the resources to help them.

City University food policy expert Professor Tim Lang agreed the sort of one-to-one dietary advice patients needed would bankrupt the NHS.

But he told Today retailers should sell less fat.

Eating a burger
High-fat food will be off the menu

"I've just walked down all the aisles in the Sainsbury's in Cromwell Road in central London and I walked past eight metres [26 feet] of milk, 33 metres [108 feet] of cheese and spreads, 18 metres [59 feet] of deserts and yoghurts, 27 metres [88 feet] of confectionary and so on."

Professor Lang told the programme supermarkets should also tackle the social causes of obesity.

"Retailers like Sainsbury's have done very very hard work trying to make sure we can only use our cars to get to the stores.

"The marketing, the pricing, the location all make us a nation of fatties."

Patsy Calton, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, welcomed the initiative.

She said: "The public and health service providers need to be aware of the dangers of eating unhealthy foods. This scheme is an imaginative contribution to that.

"All of us can enjoy fatty foods occasionally. But we need to remember that we are storing up long term health problems if we eat fatty foods all the time.

"Promoting good public health must be a higher priority for the government. Ministers must examine how we can promote an effective preventive health agenda. That means not just advice, but also promoting exercise and healthier lifestyles."

Read a selection of your comments below

People need to be encouraged to start reading the calorie and fat contents of supermarket food - they are often a surprise. They should also be encouraged to cook from fresh ingredients as often as possible instead of eating fat and sugar-laden ready meals. it only takes 20 minutes to knock together a bowl of pasta and fresh veg.
Kate Turner, UK

Supermarkets often promote unhealthy foods through 'multi buy' or buy one get one free' discounts. It is little wonder that many shoppers put their purse before their health, as they are encouraged to buy 'quantity' rather than 'quality'. This recent 'collaboration' sounds little more than a guilty conscience of the multiple retailers.
John B, England

The problem isn't fat, it's carbohydrate.
Laurie Broughton, UK
I wonder when the connection will be made to the fact that the problem isn't fat, it's carbohydrate. I eat a normal amount of fat, protein, etc, but very little carbohydrate, and I can now control my weight, which I could not when I was eating carbs.
Laurie Broughton, UK

I don't want to be cynical but I can't help thinking that Sainsbury's are getting a lot of free advertising out of these tours!
Susan Ormond, England

I recently went on a low fat diet and lost around one and a half stone. I felt great, but my pocket did not. In order to lose weight I had to buy more healthy food than normal and cut out the junk food; my shopping bill increased. It appears to me that we are paying a premium for healthy food when junk food is far cheaper. Surely this should be the other way around to encourage people to eat more healthily.
Lorna, UK

Apart from being healthier, people can rediscover the enjoyment of preparing food.
Sven, UK
It would appear that some people do need this form of education to help them lose weight. Shopping and eating healthily does take a bit more effort, but the rewards are great. Apart from being healthier, people can rediscover the enjoyment of preparing food. It's a positive cycle. I set out last year to eat my five portions of fruit and veg a day. As I got into the habit, the amount increased, and I found myself eating 8 or 9 portions a day, and cooking far more imaginatively than I had in years. With a bit of planning, food preparation is hardly taking any longer than it did before, and the shopping bills came down too, as I bought less prepared foods.
Sven, UK

I am a insulin dependent diabetic and it is very hard sometimes trying to find things that are healthy low fat and low sugar, usually I pick up yogurt that says on the label LOW FAT and then when you look on the back it is very high in sugar, which does not do you any good either, and it also happens with other products.

So for me to get a healthy diet I eat a lot of fruit, vegetables, and only lean meat and I drink mainly water, because even the diet drinks are full of sugar in some form or another. When the manufacturers of these foods get their act together and say exactly what is in them then we may have a healthier life style.
Sue, United Kingdom

I think this is a positive partnership between the NHS and supermarkets, but ultimately it is the individual who will have to process this information and practice it. The only way to lose and keep weight off is eat less, eat healthy and exercise. Any other method or regime is a short term solution or fantasy. Every one knows this, just as every one knows cakes and biscuits are fattening especially if eaten excessively. People have to take responsibility for their health.
Nick , UK

Hidden sugars are contained in many foods
Zoe, Canada
It's not just low-fat foods which people need to favour. Hidden sugars are contained in many foods, for example the fat-free fruit yoghurts which contain added sugar. I agree that supermarkets have many aisles of processed food and ready meals, but if you buy plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and meat and then cook meals yourself, you can easily eat healthily.
Zoe, Canada, ex-UK

Don't blame the retailers - I would rather blame the government for failing to educate us about the benefits of healthy eating. Supermarkets store healthy products in abundance. However, I went to A&E in central London recently and found with horror that St Mary's Hospital only served fat salads, fries, sausages, bacon, crisps and fizzy drinks (they claim they had run out of water). Schools operate similarly. Forging deals with junk food companies is unethical and is surely not the best way to promote a healthier lifestyle to an increasingly obese nation...
Nick Buteau, England

A London Primary Care Trust (NHS)and others have been running a great programme in Newham. They have been working on an initiative since last summer to refer people on low incomes with poor diets to one of the 13+ community run food co-ops (of 50+ schemes in total in the borough), where they can pick up a 3kg bag of fresh fruit and veg on production of a GP referral voucher. This has been evaluated with great results so far and how much better an approach than dodging the divine but deadly processed foods in a supermarket. I hope they get the same publicity. Vicki Hird, London
Vicki Hird, UK

Those healthy alternative have less fat because usually they also have less food.
Moshé Franco, UK
Sainsbury's, like any other large chain, are not interested in their customers' health. They're interested in money. Those healthy alternative have less fat because usually they also have less food. So why do they cost more?
Moshé Franco, UK

Yes indeed, the shopping trips are a good idea, but people should also not forget that a healthy diet should be balanced with regular exercise. I'm sure you can still put on weight with a healthy diet if you don't burn the few calories you do consume. The number of obese would probably decline more rapidly if people ate healthily and went for a jog twice a week.
Chris Huff, Italy

Possibly, provided the afflicted walk to and from the supermarket as well. I weigh more than I would like, but I constantly exercise (3+ hours per week) and am cutting down on the fats. The fast food industry doesn't help and I can see firsthand the changes wrought here - many parents are slimmer than their offspring, the latter assailed by the fast food merchants. Even more beneficial to patients would be to the local hospital, to watch similar people battling with heart disease caused by their weight.
Roger J, UK

Doctors should consider sending patients to their local health food shop
Wendy, UK
Doctors should consider sending patients to their local health food shop where there would be a wider choice of low fat foods. They wouldn't have to hunt it out amongst the rubbish on sale in supermarkets. Free advice would be available too. Our local health food shop is always packed with people and the staff are knowledgeable and helpful.
Wendy, UK

"Very difficult" to find healthy food in shops? This is nonsense. I'm not particularly gifted or special and yet I have no trouble at all in finding healthy food to eat. It's not hard, it's largely a matter of common sense and reading labels.
Sebastian Dangerfield, England

I definitely think it's a good idea. I've been living in Italy for three years and my eating habits have changed completely. In Italy and other European countries, more emphasis is put on eating healthily and this is reflected in what is on offer in supermarkets. Supermarkets in Britain allocate an aisle each to crisps and confectionary compared to not even half an aisle in the average Italian supermarket. I think the problem is due to little education in healthy eating and also the cost of eating healthily. Why buy an apple when you can buy a packet of crisps for the same price?
Jane Morgan, Italy

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"The store tours are trying to promote the right sort of foods"

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