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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 14:06 GMT
Q&A: Anti-obesity strategy
Obese family
Obesity rates are set to double without concerted action
Ministers have launched a 372m cross-departmental strategy designed to cut levels of obesity in England.

But what does it mean for what you eat and what you do?

Why a strategy and why now?

Obesity is universally recognised as a health timebomb.

Experts warn that, without action, nine out of 10 adults and two-thirds of children will be overweight or obese by 2050.

Obesity is linked to an increased risk of health problems, including cancer, heart and liver disease and diabetes.

Various measures are already in place or planned.

But the government has decided it should bring them together, with a concerted and co-ordinated effort to tackle the problem.

What does the strategy say?

The government is investing 372m in plans such as healthy towns, where initiatives like improved cycling facilities will be introduced to encourage people not to drive.

A pilot in Peterborough has led to a 13% reduction in car use and a 21% increase in walking.

The strategy also proposes a 75m "aggressive" marketing campaign which will tell parents how they can improve their children's diets and activity levels.

A range of other plans include even more encouragement for new mothers to breastfeed, reviewing junk food ad regulations and looking at ways or restricting the amount of time children spend watching TV or playing computer games.

Ministers said they would also consider the possibility of offering obese people vouchers or cash as an incentive to lose weight.

How important is food labelling?

This is something which has received a great deal of attention.

There are currently two methods of alerting consumers to how healthy - or unhealthy - the food they choose is.

One, backed by the government, is the traffic-light scheme, where green means good - ie low levels of fat and red means bad.

However, some of the biggest manufactures and supermarkets such as Tesco and Morrison say showing the percentages of Guideline Daily Amounts - or GDAs - of fats, salt and sugars and product contains is more effective.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson says he hopes the food industry will be able to agree on one scheme, but has not ruled out bringing in new regulations if this is not done.

How will we know if the strategy is working?

The government stresses it is the "first step" in tackling the problem, and says the planned annual reviews will mean measures can be improved or adapted as needed.

Its top priority is children, with the stated aim of reducing obesity levels to those seen in the year 2000 by 2020.

Will I have to live more healthily?

The government, along with the doctors and scientists who helped put this report together, would certainly like you to.

But ministers do not back the imposition of draconian measures.

They say the best ways of getting people to eat better and exercise more are giving them information and advice and ensuring that the places where they live, work and go to school make it easy for them to eat well and be active.

What do others make of the strategy?

The Tories say it fails to get to the root of the obesity problem and urge the government to sort out the food labelling argument and the Lib Dems say it contains "vague aspirations and gimmicks".

The British Heart Foundation accused the government of failing to take a sufficiently strident line with the food industry over advertising and marketing of its products.

A spokeswoman said: "How can our children expect to make 'informed' food choices if they are constantly being bombarded by junk food advertisements that urge them to put their health and hearts at risk?"

A food industry spokesman said UK companies were world leaders in offering healthy products - but agreed to work with government to make further improvements.

Child health experts said it was crucial to improve diet and activity levels as early as possible and there was widespread backing to extend the junk food ad ban up to the 9pm watershed.



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